Melissa Haizlip’s award-winning documentary “Mr. Soul!” will premiere on HBO Max on Sunday, August 22nd. The film chronicles the legacy of “SOUL!”, the public television variety show produced and hosted by Ellis Haizlip (the director’s uncle) that turned a spotlight on the Black Arts Movement. Enhancing the picture are music composed by Grammy-winner Robert Glasper as well as narration from Blair Underwood, who also serves as one of the film’s executive producers. During a time period when African-Americans were not routinely featured prominently on television except in negative stereotypes, this program blazed new trails for representation during its run from 1968 through 1973.
In his four-star review of the film published on this site, our critic Glenn Kenny wrote that “the clips from the show—and seriously, can someone assemble the entire series and get it on streaming, or physical media somehow—reveal it as a phantasmagoria of Black excellence.” “Mr. Soul!” won for Best Music Documentary at the IDA Documentary Awards, the the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Writing in a Documentary (Television or Motion Picture), the Best Feature Documentary at the Pan African Film & Arts Festival, the Audience Award for Best Feature at the AFI DOCS Film Festival in Washington, D.C., the Audience Award at the Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival, the Meta Award at the Dallas Videofest/Docufest and made a splash at the BFI London Film Festival and the Tribeca Film Festival.
Melissa Haizlip is a dynamic filmmaker who has earned many accolades for her films, including the Chaz and Roger Ebert Producing Fellowship through PROJECT INVOLVE at the Film Independent Spirit Awards. Representatives of the Black Arts Movement who appeared on her uncle’s show were timeless talents the likes of Sidney Poitier, The Last Poets, Gladys Knight, Alvin Ailey Dance Troupe, Maya Angelou, James Baldwin, Al Green, Muhammad Ali, Cicely Tyson, Stevie Wonder, Earth Wind and Fire, Ashford and Simpson, Roberta Flack, Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes, Billy Preston, Black Ivory, The Delfonics, Bill Withers, Nikki Giovanni, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Sonia Sanchez, Wilson Pickett, Odetta, Merry Clayton, Mandrill, Kool and the Gang, Toni Morrison, Kathleen Cleaver, Betty Shabazz, Stokely Carmichael, Mrs. George Jackson, George Faison and Patti Labelle.
“Making the film helped us illuminate the groundbreaking cultural work of the man behind one of the most successful and socially significant Black-produced television shows in US history,” said director Haizlip. “We’re beyond honored for the acknowledgements and excited about any nominations that will serve as a way of introducing the film, the music, and Ellis Haizlip to the world. ‘SOUL!’ is the greatest show you’ve never heard of. And up until now, Ellis Haizlip has been an unsung hero. We hope our film ‘Mr. SOUL!’ and the music it celebrates will help to change that.”
NOTE: Chaz Ebert is also an executive producer of the film.