In September 1968, WNET began airing an hour-long, all-black variety show Thursday nights. It showcased funk, jazz and soul musicians, and had interviews with leading politicians, writers and thinkers.
The pioneering series ran for six years, cementing itself as not only a vehicle to celebrate Black artistry, community and culture but also as a platform for political expression and a powerful force in the fight for social justice. In Mr. SOUL!, award-winning filmmaker Melissa Haizlip - the niece of Ellis - portrays in exquisite detail a revolutionary time in American culture and entertainment through vibrant archival footage and interviews with numerous Black luminaires who appeared on SOUL!, or were impacted by it.
While chronicling the journey of SOUL!, filmmaker Melissa Haizlip recounts the life and contributions of the late Ellis 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 an utterly groundbreaking 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.
Initially produced for New York public television, SOUL! with its singular focus on the Black community, was utterly groundbreaking. It quickly became a nationwide forum to showcase African Americans' profound contribution to the arts. By 1970, the weekly show - each episode a mix of performances and interviews - was broadcast by 72 PBS affiliates across the country. This film celebrates the genesis of SOUL! from inception, through its rise as a cultural force, to its final episode in 1973, after the series lost public funding, a casualty of changing political sensibilities.