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“MR. SOUL!” Now Streaming on HBO Max (Review)

I hope that, by now, you have taken some time to sit down and watch Questlove’s magnificent documentary “Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)” on Hulu.

If you enjoyed that film as much as I did, you’re also going to want to add Melissa Haizlip’s monumental “MR. SOUL!” to your watchlist.

It’s great to see that the film is continuing to find an audience. It premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2018 and made the festival circuit throughout 2019. And, as happened to so many other films, it got derailed a bit by COVID and ended up having a proper release delayed until late last year.

Haizlip turns a spotlight on a slice of American music and cultural history that many may be unaware of – a revolutionary public television series hosted by her uncle.

When Ellis Haizlip launched “SOUL!” in 1968, it pre-dated what we now know as PBS. Produced in New York City by WNDT and aired originally on channels that were part of NET (National Educational Television), it was touted as being “the only nationally televised weekly series oriented to the Black community.”

He was the show’s producer and also became its host, something that was all the more spectacular at the time as Ellis was an openly gay African-American man. A true variety show, he helped ensure that the weekly program would feature authors, poets, musicians, and politicians, some of whom were getting their first taste of national exposure because of the show.

Airing during the tumultuous fight of the civil rights movement and while protests over the Vietnam War were raging, “Soul!” simultaneously provided powerful conversations and illustrated the wide spectre of Black excellence for viewers of all backgrounds.

This must-see documentary unearths footage from the show that includes Nikki Giovanni interviewing James Baldwin and features from The Last Poets as well as in-studio performances from Earth, Wind and Fire, Stevie Wonder, Patti LaBelle, Al Green, and many more.

Winner of the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Writing in a Documentary (Television or Motion Picture), “MR. SOUL!” is available now on HBO Max.

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