Per my previous email, GreenLight Women is holding a free, virtual event this Sunday at 5 pm PT during which we will be giving a grant to Melissa Haizlip for her film, MR. SOUL! and we would like to get a large audience at the event.
From 1968 to 1973, the public television variety show SOUL!, guided by the enigmatic producer and host Ellis Haizlip, offered an unfiltered, uncompromising celebration of Black literature, poetry, music, and politics—voices that had few other options for national exposure, and, as a result, found the program an improbable place to call home. The series was among the first to provide expanded images of African Americans on television, shifting the gaze from inner-city poverty and violence to the vibrancy of the Black Arts Movement. With participants’ recollections and illuminating archival clips, Mr. SOUL! captures a critical moment in culture whose impact continues to resonate, and an unsung hero whose voice we need now more than ever to restore the SOUL of a nation.
The documentary is a remarkable piece of work and the series which is the subject of the series was groundbreaking. The film, entitled MR. SOUL! was produced, directed, and written by Melissa Haizlip. The film is about her uncle and the series he created, produced, and hosted, SOUL! It aired from 1968-1973 and it was the first black variety show on television. Every black artist, musicians Patti La Belle and Gladys Knight and the Pips to Earth Wind and Fire to Stevie Wonder and so on, to Alvin Ailey dancers, writers including James Baldwin, political speakers, and so forth appeared on the series. The series was hugely popular, but it was considered too controversial by President Nixon and in 1973, he had it shut down. The film is presently streaming on HBO Max and is definitely worth seeing. It is an outstanding piece of work about an astonishing show during a volatile, fascinating, rich, tough time in our nation’s history. (*If someone does not subscribe to HBO Max, upon rsvp’ing to the event, a link to the film will be available.) The hope is that people will watch the film and then attend the event.
Created and hosted by the theater producer Ellis Haizlip, and produced by a Black women–led crew, “SOUL!” mixed high and low culture with an avant-garde eclecticism. Artists as varied as Earth, Wind & Fire, Ashford & Simpson, Arsenio Hall, The Last Poets and Toni Morrison made their TV debuts on the show; poet Nikki Giovanni interviewed author James Baldwin; singers Al Green and Stevie Wonder electrified the in-studio audiences, and Haizlip graciously yet incisively interviewed a number of political figures, including Black Panthers Kathleen Cleaver and Stokely Carmichael, and the controversial heavyweight champion, Muhammad Ali. From 1968 to 1973, the show was recorded before a live audience at WNET Channel Thirteen, the flagship PBS station in New York City. Producer and host Ellis Haizlip wanted SOUL! to be something more than a “Black Tonight Show,” a format he felt was inadequate for his vision. Though a resounding success, especially among African-American viewers, the show faced pressures from the Nixon White House. Haizlip fought to champion the series, committed to curating the culture, the fluidity of Black thought and identity. SOUL! was one of the most successful and culturally significant Black-produced television shows in U.S. television history, paving the way for today’s Black television hosts.
The GreenLight Women Filmmaker Grant Program is the philanthropic arm of GreenLight Women and provides financial support for artists, filmmakers, writers and producers. This “gift aid” enables women artists over 40 to launch or complete a project. Grants are presented to recipients after careful consideration and review by the Filmmaker Grant Program jury.
Attached is the updated invitation and also a link to the event page on our website which will give you lots more info. ( Do yourself a favor and watch the trailer!)