Mr. Soul’ Comes (Back) to Washington

New Documentary Shows How Ellis Haizlip Paved Way for Oprah Winfrey, Arsenio Hall

Before Oprah Winfrey, before Arsenio Hall, there was Mr. Soul, says Melissa Haizlip, co-director with J. Kevin Swain of a new documentary about her late uncle, Ellis B. Haizlip, that will be highlighted in free screenings this week in Washington.

The documentary, “Mr. Soul! Ellis Haizlip and the Birth of Black Power TV,” is about the first “black Tonight Show,” a groundbreaking PBS television series called “Soul!” Haizlip began hosting and producing the Emmy Award­winning, nationally  
broadcast series in 1968.

A Washingtonian and Howard University alumnus, Haizlip interviewed leading black icons of the 20th century, included author James Baldwin, boxer Muhammad Ali, actor Harry Belafonte and poet Amiri Baraka. His niece said he “changed the color and face of mainstream television.” She describes “Soul!” as “one of the most controversial, successful and socially significant black-produced TV shows in U.S. history.”

The documentary, edited by Samuel D. Pollard, features archival footage that hasn’t been seen in 40 years, Melissa Haizlip said. The pioneering broadcaster’s personal papers are part of the Ellis B. Haizlip Collection at the Smithsonian Institution.

Sankofa Video, Books & Café will host a community screening of “Mr. Soul!”and reception from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 21, which would have been Haizlip’s 82nd birthday. Sankofa, which is owned by filmmaker and Howard University professor Haile Gerima, is at 2714 Georgia Ave. N.W.

The directors will participate in a screening and panel discussion from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday at the Blackburn Center at Howard University. The panel discussion will follow include Greg E. Carr, Ph.D., chair of Howard’s Dept. of Afro­American  
Studies; Amelia Cobb Gray, retired theatre professor at the University of the District of
 Columbia and 
 moderator Christopher D. Cathcart, president of the OneDiaspora Group. The Twitter hashtag for this event is #MrSoulHU, and the filmmakers can be followed at @MrSoulTheMovie.

On Saturday, “Mr. Soul!”will be part of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s third annual Independent Film Series. The filmmakers will participate in a brief discussion following the screening from 10:30 a.m. to noon during the CBC’s 41st annual Legislative Conference at the Washington Convention Center. The screening is open to the public, and no conference registration is required.