Mr. Soul”: Before Oprah, Whoopi and Arsenio there was Mr. Soul

It has been 52 years since the anniversary of the first broadcast of “Soul” which was initially funded by a grant from the Ford Foundation that aired from a New York public broadcasting television station and ran from 1968-1973 nationally in the United States.

“Soul” was produced and hosted by Ellis Haizlip known as Mr. Soul. He was black, smart, gay innovative and political. Unlike Johnny Carson where the talk show was about Carson “Soul” was exclusively a celebration of black culture through music, dance, poetry, theatre, acting and cutting interviews.

With “Soul” suddenly black culture exploded nationally totally outside the white cocoon and during its run it was in the midst of Black Power and the Civil Rights Movement. It is crammed with archival footage showing police brutality against blacks in the desegregation movement. One might argue that white police brutality continues against blacks in America to this very moment. You have heard the expression history repeats itself? There were riots in Detroit, Newark and Los Angeles. Again I say does history repeat itself?

Not only did “Soul” let black Americans escape the tyranny of white America but it gave them a chance to enjoy their culture which in many ways was far more innovative than white culture particularly that seen on American television. Some think it was President Nixon who slashed funding to the public television network that lead to the cancellation of Mr. Soul in 1973. One might argue American blacks have come far since “Soul” was defunded. How far could they have come if it had not been defunded. Again recent events of police brutality against blacks may cause one to query how far has black culture advanced?

Let’s step out of the politics here and comment on the rich footage of performances of many black artists. I think there are 40 clips of parts of performances of many a well-known black musician. There are  dancers, authors such as James Baldwin, dancers such as the tremendous Carmen de Lavallade, actors such as Harry Belafonte and Sidney Poitier, politics with a tremendous interview with the head of the Black Muslims Minister Louis Farrakhan and Black Panther Revolutionaries. I have left out many a name!

As one commentator said “Soul” was in your face and undiluted which was both its success and its undoing. Conservative Americans were afraid of the pure black narrative of “Soul” which was far beyond what they thought black culture would be.

As a historical piece from a political and cultural perspective this is a brilliant effort. From a today perspective one may walk away with a political thought which may explain the anger and smouldering frustration of those who consider that black lives matter and I mean the term for what it is as opposed to the formal political movement with the same name.

I was surprised by Ellis refusing to politicize the defunding of his show as in a somewhat aristocratic statement he said he wasn’t going to get involved in the politics of the street. “If they do not understand the importance of the show let it go.”

The film has won 17 awards and is directed, written and produced by Melissa Haizlip. It is currently showing virtually in over 80 theatres. For information https://www.mrsoulmovie.com. Watch the trailer here https://vimeo.com/447330944

Published by Robert K Sephen (CSW)

Robert K Stephen writes about food and drink, travel, and lifestyle issues. He is one of the few non-national writers to be certified as a wine specialist by the Society of Wine Educators, in Washington, DC. Robert was the first associate member of the Wine Writers’ Circle of Canada. He also holds a Mindfulness Certification from the University of Leiden and the University of Toronto. Be it Spanish cured meat, dried fruit, BBQ, or recycled bamboo place mats, Robert endeavours to escape the mundane, which is why he has established this publication. His motto is, "Have Story, Will Write."

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