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FLEFF Intern Voices

The Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival from the interns' point of view

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Posted by Sydney Augustine at 9:22PM
Mr. Soul

Growing up in the early 2000s, it became an unspoken tradition in my household to watch The Oprah Winfrey Show every weeknight. After finishing my homework, I eagerly plopped myself in front of my family’s monstrous CRT television at 7 p.m. That day’s episode was usually the only glimpse of television that I could catch on a school night, but it had an enormous impact on how I saw myself.


Several decades earlier, Black American families crowded around their television sets every week to watch the SOUL! series.

Premiering in 1968, SOUL! disrupted American broadcasting by proudly celebrating Black culture at the height of the Civil Rights Movement. Through music, dance, and literature, the radical variety show gave Black A-list celebrities and rising stars a nationally televised platform to express themselves.

This birth of Black Power TV also empowered millions of Black American viewers around the country who watched from the comfort of their homes. Displayed on their television screens were positive images of Black Americans that would inspire and deeply resonate with them.

The documentary, Mr. SOUL!, provides a behind-the-scenes look of the groundbreaking PBS series, but it also offers a fascinating and in-depth portrayal of the soul behind the show.

Asked to produce the first ‘Black Tonight Show,’ Eric Haizlip instead looked to create something that was more revolutionary and impactful. The host and executive producer of SOUL!wanted to positively redefine what it meant to Black in America during that time, while challenging the white-controlled media landscape - and he did exactly that.

Black, proud, and gay - the pioneer worked tirelessly to transform the narrative in the late 60s and early 70s, but his contributions to media is unknown to most today. Directors Samuel D. Pollard and Melissa Haizlip, who is also Ellis Haizlip’s niece, look to bring recognition to the amazing work he has done.

As a Black American and a native New Yorker, I often pride myself on my competency of Black culture and NYC history, but the SOUL! series is one I have never heard of or seen. But I look forward to learning about this phenomenon and Ellis Haizlip, the brilliant mind behind the show.

Always in awe when Oprah’s presence graced my television screen, I decided to dress up as her in second grade for Women’s History Month. Seeing a Black woman on TV who looked like me had a tremendous influence on me for I realized none of my dreams too crazy to achieve.

But Ellis Haizlip paved the way for there to be an Oprah to inspire millions of young Black girls like myself.

Excitingly, there will be a chance to learn about Haizlip’s story and discover a hidden gem in Black History during FLEFF week as Mr. SOUL! will be disrupting a theatre in Cinemapolis soon.

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