'Mr. Soul!' Documentary Showcases The Life & Work Of Ellis Haizlip

Feb 12, 2019

In the 1960s, there were few Black people on television outside of civil rights or Vietnam War images. There were a couple of sitcoms that had Black characters, but by and large, TV was created for and reflective of white audiences.

Ellis Haizlip wanted to change that and was the driving force behind the television show, Soul!, which showcased Black artistry and activism. 

"[Haizlip] was the director of the show, he was the executive producer of the show, and what he wanted to do was - while we were embroiled in war - what he wanted to do was have us not forget the culture of our beings," says Felipe Luciano, one of the subjects featured in a new documentary about Haizlip and Soul!.

The documentary, Mr. Soul!, is as much about Haizlip's life as it is about the program he created.

One of the many prominent artists featured on Soul!, Luciano was one of the founding members of The Last Poets. He also had the opportunity of hosting Soul! during its 5-year run, in an episode titled, "Shades of Soul," which celebrated Afro-Latin heritage and included a performance by Tito Puente. 

Soul! showcased poets, musicians, and thought-leaders more generally like Maya Angelou, Stevie Wonder, Alvin Ailey, and Muhammad Ali, among so many others artists from the Black diaspora. In Mr. Soul!, Luciano describes Haizlip as the "most effective, insidious revolutionary," in part because the program didn't make a distinction between art and activism.

"Ellis believed that dissent had a plethora of forms. It could be cultural, it could be poetic, it could be intellectual, it could be spiritual." - Felipe Luciano

He explains, "Unfortunately, we as a people, minimize our protest, we minimize our dissent. We suppress it by saying it only has to be this way, it can only be political... dissent cannot have any other dynamic. Ellis believed that dissent had a plethora of forms." 

Luciano continues, "It could be cultural, it could be poetic, it could be intellectual, it could be spiritual... His revolution was to worm his way inside your heart and to expose the cult of inferiority that too many of us were operating under, to show us the beauty of ourselves."

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