2020-2021 Independent Lens Film Season
Premiering in 1968, SOUL! was the first nationally broadcast all-Black variety show on public television, merging artists from the margins with post-Civil Rights Black radical thought. Mr. SOUL! delves into this critical moment in television history, as well as profiling Ellis Haizlip, the man who guided it, through participants’ recollections and archival footage, highlighting a turning point in representation whose impact continues to resonate to this day.
Indie Lens Pop-Up National Online Video Engagement Experience & Film Screening
Q & A
Wednesday, Feb. 19th
5:00 p.m. CST
About the Film
In 1968, America’s first Black variety show, “SOUL!,” helmed by producer and host Ellis Haizlip, premiered on public television. The pioneering series ran for five years, cementing itself as not only a vehicle to celebrate African American artistry, community, and culture but also as a platform for political expression and a powerful force in the fight for social justice. Mr. SOUL! portrays in exquisite detail a revolutionary time in American culture and entertainment through vibrant archival footage and interviews with numerous Black luminaries who appeared on “SOUL!,” or were impacted by it.
While chronicling the journey of “SOUL!,” Mr. SOUL! recounts the life and contributions of the late Haizlip, who was steeped in the New York City arts community prior to creating the show. Ellis quickly stepped into the role of host of his creation, where his earnest demeanor, low-key interviewing style, and his passion for the Black artistic community and their works—including books, the spoken word, music, film, and dance—culminated in a show that depicted the Black experience in a bold and unapologetic way. Haizlip’s creation shifted the media focus from what was then uniformly images of inner-city poverty and violence, to instead shine a light on the vibrant contemporary Black Arts Movement.
With award-winning performer Blair Underwood providing the voice of Ellis Haizlip, Mr. SOUL! features not only archival performances from music legends such as Al Green, Stevie Wonder, Earth, Wind & Fire, Diahann Carroll, B.B. King, and Patti LaBelle, but also spoken word performances from The Last Poets and Sonia Sanchez, dance performances by Carmen de Lavallade, and interviews with James Baldwin, Nikki Giovanni, Muhammad Ali and Maya Angelou, among many others. Artists such as Harry Belafonte, Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, and activist and former Black Panther Kathleen Cleaver share their recollections about the show and its tremendous impact on them and their careers.
About The Filmmaker
Melissa Haizlip is an award-winning filmmaker based in New York. Her work responds to pressing social issues at the intersection of racial justice, social justice, activism, and representation. Female transformation and empowerment are at the core of all of her ideas, with the goal being to advocate and amplify the voices of women and people of color. Melissa’s feature documentary, Mr. SOUL!, won the 2020 Critics Choice Documentary Award for Best First Feature Documentary. In 2019, Mr. SOUL! was awarded as a finalist for the inaugural Library of Congress Lavine / Ken Burns Prize for Film, a new, annual prize that recognizes a filmmaker whose documentary uses original research and compelling narrative to tell stories that touch on some aspect of American history. Mr. SOUL! premiered at Tribeca and screened at 50 festivals, receiving 16 Jury and Audience Awards for Best Documentary, and the 2019 FOCAL Award for Best Use of Archival Footage in an Entertainment Production. Melissa directed and produced Contact High: A Visual History of Hip-Hop and produced You’re Dead to Me (2013) directed by Wu Tsang, about a grieving Chicana mother coming to terms with the loss of her transgender child on Día de los Muertos. The film won Best Short at the 2014 Imagen Awards, and screened at over 50 festivals and museums. Melissa’s two-channel art films have been exhibited by the Hammer Museum Los Angeles Biennial, Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, and Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam.
WSIU VIRTUAL FILM EVENTS
Indie Lens Pop-Up is a WSIU media project that brings people together for film screenings and community-driven conversations. The project, which features documentaries from the PBS hit series Independent Lens, draws local residents together to discuss newsworthy topics to family, relationships, and more. These virtual screening events are free and open to the public.
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