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A Documentary On The 60’s Black Culture Show 'Soul!' Is Coming To TV

A Documentary On The 60’s Black Culture Show 'Soul!' Is Coming To TV

A new documentary is re-telling the story of the popular 1960’s Black culture show, Soul!, through the lens of its host and producer, The New York Times reports.

Mr. Soul! is a new documentary centered around Ellis Haizlip, the host and co-producer of Soul!, which aired in the 1960s and 70s. It served as a major platform for the emerging Black Arts Movement. From the very beginning, Haizlip focused on positioning the show as a showcase for a wide array of movement workers, bringing on the likes of Patti LaBelle, Stevie Wonder, Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, and Minister Louis Farrakhan, among others.

Photo Courtesy of Chester Higgins

The new documentary explores Hazlip’s life as a Black gay male with enormous power and confidence during that era and the inextricable connection between his personal life and the programming. The revolutionary host grew up in a segregated neighborhood in D.C. and began producing plays while attending Howard University. Once he graduated in 1954, he moved to New York and produced plays with Vinnette Carroll at the Harlem Y.M.C.A., which featured the likes of Cicely Tyson and James Earl Jones. He passed in 1991 at age 61 from cancer, but his indelible mark on the progressive art movement persists.

“It was Ellis’s revolutionary idea to combine politics, poetry, music and fiction into one forum,” Melissa Haizlip, cousin of Ellis and director of the upcoming film said.

The blueprint he set would be one that many shows would follow and attempt to recreate for years to come. It is believed that Haizlip’s personal politics had a lot to do with his ability to create an environment for creative and confrontational influencers to coexist in one space. The show provided an opportunity and platform for conversations and content catered to the Black community, despite the white gaze.

Pushing acts like Patti LaBelle, who performed during the opening episode, Wilson Pickett, The Last Poets, Sonia Sanchez, and Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson, made the show a mainstay in Black households across America while also pushing these influencers to collaborate in ways they hadn’t before.

Photo Courtesy of Chester Higgins

“He saw something in us that we didn’t see in ourselves,” Simpson said.

Haizlip was committed to showing Black people in their fullness, something that veteran photographer Chester Higgins thought was desperately needed during that time.

“We were either victims or villains. The media focused on poverty, riots and crime. They chose not to give any presence to the full character of our people,” Higgins said.

Soul! was different. When it was canceled in 1973 despite strong viewer ratings nationally, Haizlip returned to his roots as a producer. In the final episode, he offered a guiding light, saying, “Although it’s over, it’s not the end. Black seeds keep on growing.”

The new documentary, Mr. Soul! is now available on-demand streaming services everywhere!

Photo Courtesy of Alex Harsley/NY Times