Windy City Media Group Frontpage News

THE VOICE OF CHICAGO'S GAY, LESBIAN, BI, TRANS AND QUEER COMMUNITY SINCE 1985

home search facebook twitter join
Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2021-12-08
DOWNLOAD ISSUE
Donate

Sponsor


  WINDY CITY TIMES

MOVIES 'Mr. SOUL!' looks at groundbreaking '60s show and Black, gay host
by Andrew Davis, Windy City Times
2021-08-23

This article shared 1334 times since Mon Aug 23, 2021
facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email


Al Green, Stevie Wonder, Patti LaBelle, Gladys Knight, Nikki Giovanni, James Baldwin, Cicely Tyson, Harry Belafonte, Muhammad Ali, The Last Poets, Earth, Wind & Fire, Sidney Poitier, Mavis Staples and even a teenaged Arsenio Hall were just a few of the artists who appeared on the seminal 1968-73 Black variety show SOUL! The show was groundbreaking not only for its focus on Black features but also for its host: Ellis Haizlip, who was political, outspoken—and openly gay.

His niece, Melissa Haizlip, is the force (producer/director/writer) behind the documentary Mr. SOUL!, which debuted on HBO Max on Aug. 22. She talked with Windy City Times about the show and her uncle.

Windy City Times: I was stunned, in a good way, on several levels by this documentary about a show that I didn't know existed. Is Mr. SOUL! a tribute to your uncle, an educational tool or something else?

Melissa Haizlip: It's all of the above.

There are so many hidden figures in our history, in our culture—not necessarily hidden to us, but by the sands of time or other agendas. But the most important thing is to find those hidden figures and illuminate their lives and importance; otherwise, you're dealing with this whole concept of erasure. We're actually celebrating and illuminating the contributions of African Americans to the culture, to the history of this nation.

And you're talking about Ellis Haizlip—who was a very proud, out gay man who's somewhat of a queer icon in modern-day parlance. That wasn't even a possibility, pre-Stonewall. I thought it was really important to illuminate his story—the triumphs and tribulations. He had to have a double consciousness in order to survive and be welcomed into the world of media. This story illustrates the nuances of this culture; it's not a monolith, and we've always had queer icons, whether they were known or unknown.

We've always had Black excellence. The movie is a cultural corrective, if you will—a resetting of the narrative. We should recognize that we're standing on the shoulders of giants.

It's also an educational tool. We did have an educational distributor, and we wanted to bridge the gap for our young African-American youth, and to be inclusive of all those who really don't know about this era. We also wanted to be incredibly uplifting and entertaining in curating Black joy.

It's a huge conversation right now, as we're experiencing a cultural PTSD regarding the events of last year. I think of [the film] as a Balm of Gilead, and as a wonderful educational tool, as you say. I think SOUL! is a tide that lifts all boats.

WCT: How true do you think the following statement is? "SOUL! was revolutionary, in part, because it featured revolutionaries."

MH: Yes. I do agree with that. The statement is very accurate because that was only part of the reason it was revolutionary.

There are many different kinds of revolutionaries, as we know. There are outspoken revolutionaries and activists who become [them], but there are also quiet revolutionaries and people who change thought. I think Ellis was in the business of changing minds. He didn't have a tremendous amount of power, but he did decide that by illuminating the multifaceted corners of the Black experience, that would be a subtle way of changing the perception of African-American culture.

With all the civil-rights struggles that were happening at that time, people weren't experiencing Black folks—they weren't checking for us, as we say. So this idea that you could experience Black culture for yourselves—along with women and queer folks behind the scenes—was revolutionary.

Ellis Haizlip didn't really take sides about what was good or bad, or the sacred or profane. I think he knew there was room for all of that; that, in itself, was revolutionary. He had the Black Panthers on there, and I'm sure they were on the [FBI] watchlist. And there was also art as activism. Giving visibility to the invisible is revolutionary. And there was a limited platform to change minds with; at that time, you had ABC, CBS, NBC and PBS.

WCT: And there was a limited platform. Did SOUL! air on public access in New York City?

MH: Well, it started on a public television station—not really public access.

Remember: Before the Public Broadcasting Act [of 1967], there were independent, educational stations around the nation—but they hadn't been joined together in a system. That system became PBS. And that's what was really unique about the timing of SOUL! It happened just when a national audience was forming. The show went to being on the flagship PBS station in New York City, WNET.

For the first season, the show was local, in the New York/New Jersey area. However, after, it was broadcast to major cities where PBS was available.

With SOUL!, Ellis decided to take things one step further and make it "Black power television." But he included artists, activists, poets and musicians, and made it a cultural space. But the Nixon administration didn't like it because it wasn't conservative. You had this unapologetically Black agenda being funded by the government—and they weren't having it.

It's hard to imagine in this day and age, with all the streaming and [technological] options, so we had to set this up in the film so people could understand and appreciate SOUL!

WCT: This documentary has so many factual nuggets that I'm sure I'll have to watch it five more times to absorb it. [Haizlip laughs.] And it was interesting to see singer Billy Preston—someone who struggled with his own sexuality.

MH: Many people have said to me, "Melissa, I had to stop the film because I couldn't believe what I was seeing."

With Billy, it was a struggle because he was so spiritual; the gospel was his foundation, as it was for Ellis. He said, "Gospel music is the floor for Black pride." But there is this duality that queer Black men have to straddle between loving their community and not being accepted by their community/family. And we tried to show this struggle.

The beauty of the creativity of someone like Billy Preston or the furtherance by Ellis Haizlip—while still being constricted—is some of the melancholy you might feel while watching the film. Those might be the underpinnings of our culture, in general, but we still carry on, create and love. We have to be honest about those incongruencies. This is a universal story.

I think the key is showing things that are intimate with love and not with judgment. That's a very delicate hand we had to play. There's obviously no tragedy in being queer; Ellis was a strong Black man, but he had his struggles.

WCT: What was the most surprising thing you uncovered?

MH: There were a lot of surprising things, as this documentary took 10 years to make. I went down a lot of rabbit holes. [Laughs]

But for me, the most surprising things were the profundity of people's memories of SOUL! and the transformative nature of those experiences—they were immediate. I was worried about how to make these 50-year-old stories dynamic and present instead of just a trip down memory lane; I knew there was more depth than that. What impressed me was hearing these people in their 70s, 80s and even 90s—and that their experiences were right at the surface. It was as if these experiences had just happened; you don't see that every day. One person we interviewed—Felipe Luciano—just went all IN, cursing and swearing; we were just blown away, and the whole crew had tears streaming down their faces. I just wasn't prepared for that.

WCT: I figured this took some time, as I saw an interview with Ashford & Simpson. [Singer Nick Ashford died in 2011.]

MH: Yeah—we didn't know he was ill. He was coughing and sweating profusely during our 10-minute interview with him. We thought he had a cold, but he passed away a few months later of cancer. But they wanted to do the interview because they loved Ellis and they feel he made them who they were.

WCT: If SOUL! ran today, what guests do you think would be on it?

MH: Oh, my gosh. I've thought about that as well as reboot of SOUL! I'm actually working on a concept with the wonderful Stan Lathan, who was part of the original crew and who is in the film. [Note: Lathan is also the father of actress Sanaa Lathan, among others.]

I think Ellis would have outspoken artists and activists. Colin Kaepernick would be sitting up there as well as 1619 Project's Nikole Hannah-Jones. Black Lives Matter would absolutely be up there. We're seeing the same types of ideologies that people saw during the Black Power movement.

WCT: Your uncle certainly didn't shy from controversial people and subjects. What do you think he would have made of Rachel Dolezal [the former college instructor and activist known for claiming to be a Black woman]?

MH: Whoo! [Laughs] I can't use the words he would've used. He had a sharp tongue, but he was also kind. He had love for all the inconsistencies of this culture.

WCT: This year marks the 30th anniversary of Ellis Haizlip's passing. If he were alive, what's one question you definitely would have to ask him?

MH: Oh, my goodness. I would ask him the most important question: Do you feel you did enough?

I always sensed a certain melancholy around him—that he hadn't done enough. He wanted more for our people. I think he'd be so excited by the cultural strides we've made, but he'd still be so critical of not being where we need to be. That's why we ended the film we way we did; it's just a beginning. There has always been Black excellence, and there always will be.


This article shared 1334 times since Mon Aug 23, 2021
facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email

  ARTICLES YOU MIGHT LIKE

Gay News

MOVIES Siskel films include 'The Power of the Dog,' 'Flee'
2022-01-20
The Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State St., has current and upcoming movie slates that include everything from older classics to current award-festival favorites. On the more contemporary side, the Jane Campion film The Power ...


Gay News

Revry's Black History Month of LGBTQ-First Films and Series celebrates Black stories
2022-01-20
-- From a press release - Los Angeles - This Black History Month, Revry is programming LGBTQ-first Black stories with themes from the differently-abled, LGBTQ athletes, activists and the lesbian, trans and the cis-gender lesbian community. Over 35% of Revry's audience is ...


Gay News

MUSIC Aimee Mann to perform April 29-30 at Old Town School of Folk Music
2022-01-19
Musician Aimee Mann is slated to perform April 29-30 at Old Town School of Folk Music's Gary and Laura Maurer Concert Hall, 4544 N. Lincoln Ave. After several albums with 'Til Tuesday (with songs like "Voices ...


Gay News

Billy Masters: Colton Underwood, Golden Globes and more
2022-01-17
"I was not prepared to receive death threats over a fictional character's fictional relationship choices that are fictional which means not real."—A writer on the Sex and the City sequel And Just Like That describes feedback ...


Gay News

SHOWBIZ Music festivals, Murray Bartlett, Reese Witherspoon, author David Sedaris
2022-01-16
Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival revealed the lineup for this year's festival, taking place June 16-19 on the Bonnaroo Farm in Manchester, Tennessee, a press release noted. Highlights will include performances by Tool, J. Cole, Stevie ...


Gay News

Black Ensemble Theatre announces 2022 Season of Excellence: The Season of Healings
2022-01-14
-- From a press release - Chicago, IL—Black Ensemble Theater's Founder and CEO Jackie Taylor announces its 2022 Season of Excellence: The Season of Healings. The 2022 Season includes four World Premiere musicals showcasing the power ...


Gay News

SAG nominees include 'Gucci,' 'Power of the Dog,' 'Squid Game'
2022-01-12
Nominees for the 28th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards honoring outstanding individual, cast and ensemble performances for the past year were announced Jan. 12 by actors Rosario Dawson and Vanessa Hudgens via Instagram Live, according to ...


Gay News

NBJC celebrates Mj Rodriguez on Golden Globes win
2022-01-11
—From a press release - The National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC) congratulates Michaela Jae "Mj" Rodriguez on earning the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a TV Drama during the 2022 Golden Globe Awards. Rodriguez won for her role as Blanca ...


Gay News

THEATER 'Mary Rose' running through Feb. 12
2022-01-10
Black Button Eyes (BBE) Productions is concluding its 2021-22 season with the world-premiere musical Mary Rose, featuring book and lyrics by Producing Artistic Director Ed Rutherford, music and lyrics by Jeff Bouthiette, direction by Ed Rutherford ...


Gay News

Billy Masters: Andy Cohen, SJP and more
2022-01-10
The virus hit us both like a freight train. Thankfully, we were both triple vaccinated and the vaccinations did their job, which kept us out of real danger and out of the hospital… [We're] still isolating and waiting to see until we test ...


Gay News

Trans actress Rodriguez makes history at quiet Golden Globes
2022-01-10
On Jan. 9, Michaela Jae "Mj" Rodriguez won a Golden Globe for best actress in a TV drama for her role as Blanca on the FX show Pose, according to media reports. The awards were announced on social media, as the Globes were not broadcast or live-streamed ...


Gay News

SHOWBIZ Non-binary skater, Cardi B, David Bowie, 'West Hollywood' series
2022-01-09
U.S. figure skating champion Timothy LeDuc is hoping to make history as the first out non-binary Winter Olympian in Beijing, out.com noted. The 31-year-old Iowa native and their skating partner, Ashley Cain-Gribble, already have a gold ...


Gay News

Chicago's first-ever Festival au Cinema to take place Aug. 26-28
2022-01-07
Haven Chicago has announced its first-ever Festival au Cinema, described as "the company's new platform for visionary and innovative filmmakers and media artists staking their claim in the future of digital storytelling." Festival au Cinema will ...


Gay News

THEATER Trans performer Sis is doin' fine in 'Oklahoma!'
2022-01-05
This isn't your typical grandma's Oklahoma! The very first musical written by Rodgers and Hammerstein opened on Broadway in 1943 and continues to captivate audiences today. The dialogue remains the same, but updated casting choices have ...


Gay News

THEATER 'Winnie the Pooh' running March 15-June 12
2022-01-05
After its run in New York City, Jonathan Rockefeller's Disney's Winnie the Pooh: The New Musical Stage Adaptation will arrive in Chicago on March 15 and will run through June 12 at the Mercury Theatre Chicago, ...


 



Copyright © 2022 Windy City Media Group. All rights reserved.
Reprint by permission only. PDFs for back issues are downloadable from
our online archives. Single copies of back issues in print form are
available for $4 per issue, older than one month for $6 if available,
by check to the mailing address listed below.

Return postage must accompany all manuscripts, drawings, and
photographs submitted if they are to be returned, and no
responsibility may be assumed for unsolicited materials.
All rights to letters, art and photos sent to Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago
Gay and Lesbian News and Feature Publication) will be treated
as unconditionally assigned for publication purposes and as such,
subject to editing and comment. The opinions expressed by the
columnists, cartoonists, letter writers, and commentators are
their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay,
Lesbian, Bisexual and Transegender News and Feature Publication).

The appearance of a name, image or photo of a person or group in
Nightspots (Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times
(a Chicago Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender News and Feature
Publication) does not indicate the sexual orientation of such
individuals or groups. While we encourage readers to support the
advertisers who make this newspaper possible, Nightspots (Chicago
GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay, Lesbian
News and Feature Publication) cannot accept responsibility for
any advertising claims or promotions.

 
 

TRENDINGBREAKINGPHOTOS







Sponsor
Sponsor


 



Donate


About WCMG      Contact Us      Online Front  Page      Windy City  Times      Nightspots      OUT! Guide     
Identity      BLACKlines      En La Vida      Archives      Advanced Search     
Windy City Queercast      Queercast Archives     
Press  Releases      Join WCMG  Email List      Email Blast      Blogs     
Upcoming Events      Todays Events      Ongoing Events      Bar Guide      Community Groups      In Memoriam      Outguide Categories      Outguide Advertisers      Search Outguide      Travel      Dining Out      Privacy Policy     

Windy City Media Group publishes Windy City Times,
The Bi-Weekly Voice of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans Community.
5315 N. Clark St. #192, Chicago, IL 60640-2113 • PH (773) 871-7610 • FAX (773) 871-7609.