The short story goes… In 1968, they asked him to produce the first "black Tonight Show." Instead, he started a revolution by bringing the real black experience to the national stage… SOUL! was one of the most controversial, successful and socially significant black-produced TV shows in US history.
On the heels of the Civil Rights Movement… He was hip. He was smart. He was innovative and political. In his personal fight for social equality, this man ensured the Revolution would be televised.
And that man was Ellis Haizlip; while the revolution he led was known as SOUL!, described as the first “black Tonight Show,” launcehd in 1968 as a local, New York broadcast, which would eventually become a nationwide phenom.
By 1973, Haizlip had produced over 130 hour-long shows featuring a dazzling array of A-list guests like Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte, James Baldwin, Stevie Wonder, Maya Angelou, Ashford and Simpson, Nikki Giovanni, Al Green and Muhammad Ali – even a 16-year-old Arsenio Hall doing magic tricks.
And now, Haizlip's niece, Melissa Haizlip, along with director Sam Pollard, have teamed to produce the feature documentary Mr. SOUL!: Ellis Haizlip and the Birth of Black Power TV.
The film provides a behind-the-scenes look at the show, from its initial conception to its final broadcast, including the very public battle to keep it on the air despite a shifting political landscape, asking and answering questions like:
Who was this innovator, determined to fight for liberation and acceptance through cultural expression? Why did this Emmy Award-winning show lose funding at the height of the Black Arts Movement? How is SOUL! relevant today, when diversity in media remains a paramount issue?
Mr. SOUL!: Ellis Haizlip and the Birth of Black Power TV aims to engage new conversation about what it refers to as a critical moment in American broadcast history, while offering a nuanced and fascinating portrait of the soul behind SOUL!, Ellis Haizlip.
And to that end, next month Monday, September 24, Melissa Haizlip will launch a month-long Kickstarter campaign at the Black Programming Consortium in Harlem, seeking to raise $100,000 to match a National Endowment for the Arts grant – and money from the Consortium. She hopes to complete the film in 2013.
If you're not familiar with SOUL!, you can a few episodes on the WNET Thirteen's website HERE.