HBO Max welcomes award-winning documentary ‘Mr. SOUL!’ to its roster

How have Ellis Haizlip’s contributions to Black culture gone unrecognized until now?

We wanted to illuminate the life and legacy of Ellis Haizlip, whose work matters in the grand scheme of this era filled with unsung heroes and hidden figures. Also, Ellis Haizlip was openly gay and proud. It’s taken a long time for the country to evolve, and to finally recognize and celebrate our Black queer icons. Mr. SOUL! is a love letter to Black culture, Black history, Black excellence, Black arts, and Black lives.

Ellis’ conversations with some of history’s most influential icons feel like a glimpse into the lifeblood of Black America in the ’50s, ’60s, etc. Do you believe he was aware of the impact and how important those conversations were to Black people? 

In the 1960s and early 1970s, Black writers, visual artists, choreographers, playwrights and musicians were purposing artistic work into a form of nonviolent protest against centuries of systemic racism and racial oppression. With roots in the Civil Rights Movement, the sense of urgency around artistic endeavors found momentum after the assassination of Malcolm X/el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz in 1965. He was an Afro-futurist and knew that freedom of expression, creativity and culture would lead to the liberation of our people. SOUL! gave voice to the Black Power Movement. With SOUL!, Haizlip opened the door wider for future hosts, who would stand on the shoulders of giants like [him]; Oprah Winfrey, Arsenio Hall, Trevor Noah, and all the BIPOC variety, late-night, and talk-show hosts who have followed.

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