The award-winning Mr. SOUL! initially debuted in 2018, sweeping the festival circuit in the documentary category starting with the Tribeca Film Festival. Written, directed and produced by Melissa Haizlip, the granddaughter of Ellis Haizlip, the legend at the center of the documentary, the film represents legacy in more ways than one. Haizlip gave us more details during a recent interview.
How was it possible to be so unapologetically Black, even more so than today, at a time when Blacks were in the midst of fighting for their civil rights?
SOUL! was highly controversial and unorthodox for its time due to both its political content about race and its format. Haizlip was intentional with his curation of a broad spectrum of Black cultural expression. SOUL! simultaneously opened doors and raised awareness to a viewing audience about the plurality of Black identity and Black critical thought. One of the reasons it was so unapologetically Black was due to the fact that it aired on public television, with a format and Black agenda that was unprecedented, and not commercially influenced.
What themes do we see connecting talent on SOUL! to today’s talent?
It’s mind-blowing when you realize that Arsenio Hall made his television debut on SOUL! when he was 16 years old, performing magic tricks! It’s equally inspiring to see the interview from SOUL! featuring a young and powerful Nikki Giovanni interviewing James Baldwin going viral on social media, exactly 50 years later. That’s when you realize how necessary and relevant and the show remains, to this day.
Continue reading on the next page.