Who Was Mr. Soul? Here Are 3 Things To Take Away From The “Mr. Soul!” Documentary


Athena Bonner, Staff Writer

I will teach you all about an important historical figure in television production, especially in the black arts entertainment side of television production. His name was Ellis B. Haizlip, but his nickname was Mr. Soul. He attended Howard University, graduating in 1954 with a degree in Production. He had lived in New York, attending plays and producing programs for well-known dance programs like Alvin Ailey.

He was the first black queer producer of the television show “Soul,” a black arts program on PBS that premiered in 1968. It had live conversations with superstars of the early sixties and seventies such as Nikki Giovanni, Al Green, Patti LaBelle, and Stevie Wonder. The show was created to bring black, brown, and queer people together alongside art pioneers in the African American community. It was also a way to give creators and musicians their flowers while they were still on earth to smell them. 

The show’s final episode aired in 1973, ending the show’s five-year run on PBS, at the time known as NET (the National Education Television Network). The show still had an impact on me because it shows me that I can create and produce art and that good soul music still exists.

“Mr. Soul!” was a documentary that came out in February 2021. It was written and produced by Melissa Haizlip, a director, writer, producer, and niece of the late Mr. Soul. A Boston native with roots in the Virgin Islands, she attended Harvard and then Yale for graduate school. Her documentary can be seen on HBO Max.

Since its release, the film has won countless awards. It was shown at Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival and won the HBO Competition award for Best Documentary, and then won the award for Outstanding Writing in a Documentary at the NAACP Image Awards. It also won the Black Reel Award for Outstanding Independent Documentary.

The first thing I had learned was watching the documentary, and the show on YouTube is that it is cool to bring all walks of life together through the arts. I like how Haizlip was able to make a change in his community with ease and perseverance. I wish people in this generation were just as invested in honoring mediums of the arts. I was completely in awe of the fashion of African American and brown people during the 1970s. I like how the art, poetry, and performances came together.

The messages of the time, which are still relevant today in 2021, where to appreciate the art of poetry and music more because there is a need for many good souls in music today. I am tired of the same messages in a misogynist tone of putting down women (especially black women) while uplifting men. I want to see people like Stevie Wonder or Al Green perform and sing. I was inspired to express myself, appreciate my blackness in total, and put power to my words as a creative.

The second thing that I learned while watching “Mr. Soul!” is that it is cool to be yourself and original. I learned this skill from watching this documentary; it is cool to be original and take your time with any project you want to make because greatness takes a lot of time and patience to develop. So, please take your time as an artist, which I am currently discovering, heal, love yourself, all in order to experience life and live my best abilities. Being yourself, you have much growing to do as an individual, but that growth can also happen with like-minded souls, who are the same original alignment as you. You can love who you love. It is important, especially in college, to do things alone and find yourself and the community. Your possibility can make a difference in the world. 

I learned a final thing while watching “Mr. Soul!” . It is important to uplift and support your favorite artists. I like the documentary because it explores the artist’s pre-fame and notoriety; I like how the host fosters relationships with people. He had done his best to maintain the relationships that he created throughout the show. Most late-night hosts may avoid the hard questions, but these questions have the power to bring people together. It is inspiring to see documentaries like this because it makes me want to support my favorite creatives and artists of today.

I highly suggest that you all watch the “Mr. Soul!” Documentary!