Mr. SOUL! is a remarkable documentary. It tells the us the story of a variety program and its host Ellis Haizlip, an openly gay Black man, during the late 1960s early 1970s. The documentary resonates today, just like SOUL! did back then, because it unabashedly showcases Black pride.
One of the through lines is that the media has been weaponized to argue for the inhumanity of African Americans. This still holds true today. The media landscape is built on whiteness. SOUL! did just the opposite. It presented Black men and women without having to justify their blackness.
SOUL! was the definition of something special. It propelled the Black Arts Movement and showcased remarkable performances by artists such as Stevie Wonder, Al Green, Kool and the Gang, and Ashford and Simpson. It also included interviews with Muhammad Ali, Louis Farrakhan, and James Baldwin.
The main takeaway from this piece is cliche and simple. Representation matters! The documentary ends with Quest Love, from the Roots, asking to imagine if SOUL! had a 20 year run? This question is important since we see few Black faces and voices on late night TV.
If you are looking for a similar vibe consider checking The Late Show with Trevor Noah (on Comedy Central), The Amber Ruffin Show (on Peacock), and Wilmore (on Peacock).
Mr. Soul Trailer
Mr. Soul is currently available through virtual cinemas.
“Before shooting I try to observe as much as I can. I don’t want to work with my strong intention, because if you work with a strong intention I think what you do is you repeat what you’ve heard and what you’ve seen in the past. It’s not new. It’s not interesting. So what I try to do is observe and respond to what is given. What is given is more interesting than what I craft by my intentions. Intentions always dangerous for me, always stereotypical-not interesting at all. If I have to work in the line of intention, I will not work. It’s so boring. It would be like I’d be a construction worker, your whole design would be just like a railroad. I need something new, really unexpected things happen every day. Every day something new has to happen, that way I feel alive and want to work.”
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