Ellis Haizlip broke the talk show and public television color barrier when he introduced “SOUL!,” the weekly program he hosted during the late ’60s and early ’70s, to PBS. Now, a half decade after the show debuted, his niece Melissa Haizlip (“Crossing Jordan”) revisits his legacy with the documentary “Mr. SOUL!” Deadline anticipated the world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival by unveiling the trailer (above) yesterday (April 4).
“There exists, as far as I know, no TV program that deals with my culture so completely, so freely, so beautifully,” the senior Haizlip remarked in archival footage from the trailer. To drive that point home, the trailer incorporates clips of performances from now-renowned Black artists as varied as Maya Angelou, Donny Hathaway and Alvin Ailey. Haizlip also conducted interviews on the show with Stokely Carmichael, James Baldwin and other activists and thought leaders.
Interviewees like Kathleen Cleaver, Sonia Sanchez and Harry Belafonte spoke to the importance of this show, which centered Black culture at a time when the U.S. was waging full-scale war on Black activism. “This is serious business, our lives were at stake!” Cleaver emphasized in the trailer.
PBS/Thirteen noted that Ellis Haizlip fought both on and off camera. He intentionally staffed his production team with Black crew members and publicly criticized the government-created Corporation for Public Broadcasting for pulling funding. “Worse than racism, I see this as the beginning of a systematic plan to remove Black programs from public television,” he told Jet magazine after the show’s cancellation in 1973.
“Mr. SOUL!” debuts at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 22.