(New York, NY- July 22, 2021)–Executive Producers Chaz Ebert, record executive and film producer Ron Gillyard, producer and director Stan Lathan, Hillman Grad Productions producing partner Rishi Rajani, Run&Shoot Filmworks CEO Stephanie T. Rance, actor and producer Blair Underwood and Emmy award-winning writer, producer and Hillman Grad Productions CEO, Lena Waithe are proud to announce the critically acclaimed documentary Mr. SOUL! will premiere on HBO Max on August 1, 2021. The film, produced and directed by Melissa Haizlip, won Best First Documentary Feature at the 2020 Critics Choice Documentary Awards, and Outstanding Writing in a Documentary (Television or Motion Picture) at the 52nd NAACP Image Awards. “Mr. SOUL!” was also shortlisted at the 93rd Academy Awards in the category of Best Original Song, for “Show Me Your Soul” by Grammy Award-winning composer Robert Glasper and Grammy Award-winning singer Lalah Hathaway. (Watch Trailer)
Before Oprah, before Arsenio, there was Mr. SOUL! From 1968 to 1973, the public television variety show, SOUL!, guided by the enigmatic producer and host Ellis Haizlip, offered an unfiltered and uncompromising celebration of music, politics, dance, Black literature, and poetry. SOUL! was the first national variety show to provide expanded images of African Americans on television, shifting the gaze from inner-city poverty and violence to the vibrancy of the Black Arts Movement. With participants’ recollections and myriad archival clips, Mr. SOUL! captures a critical moment in our nation’s cultural rise, whose impact continues to resonate across generations and cultures.
Mr.SOUL! celebrates rich cultural moments with astonishing footage of interviews and rare live performances by icons and luminaries such as: 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, Black Ivory, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, Maya Angelou, Billy Preston, Toni Morrison, Bill Withers, Sonia Sanchez, Wilson Pickett, Kool & the Gang, Roberta Flack, Kathleen Cleaver, Amiri Baraka, Carmen de Lavallade, George Faison, Melba Moore, Max Roach, and a 16-year-old Arsenio Hall making his television debut performing magic tricks.
Mr. SOUL! made its world premiere at the TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL where audiences embraced it with standing ovations and sold-out screenings. Mr. SOUL! received 33 nominations and won 21 awards including 14 film festival awards. Mr. SOUL! screened at over 50 film festivals around the world, including HOT DOCS, AFI Docs, BFI London, True/False, Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival, Woodstock Film Festival, Pan African Film Festival, Urbanworld, Los Angeles Film Festival and more. Mr. SOUL! was nominated for three NAACP Image Awards, and won for Outstanding Writing in a Documentary (Television or Motion Picture). In 2020, Mr. SOUL! was nominated for five Critics Choice Documentary Awards including Best Documentary Feature, and won the award for Best First Documentary Feature. The film won the International Documentary Association IDA Doc Award for Best Music Documentary, the Finalist Award for the Inaugural Library of Congress Lavine/Ken Burns Prize for Film, the Audience Award at both AFI Docs and at Woodstock Film Festival. Mr. SOUL! was nominated for a Cinema Eye Honors for Outstanding Debut Feature. The film made its PBS premiere on Independent Lens during Black History Month 2021.
“Making the film helped us illuminate the groundbreaking cultural work of Ellis Haizlip, the man behind one of the most successful and socially significant, Black-produced television shows in U.S. history,” said director Melissa Haizlip. “We’re truly grateful for the opportunity to both introduce and reintroduce the SOUL! series, the music, and Ellis Haizlip to the world. ‘SOUL!’ is the greatest show you’ve never heard of. And up until now, my uncle Ellis Haizlip has been a bit of an unsung hero. We’re beyond honored to have Mr. SOUL! premiere on HBO Max on August 1st. It’s both thrilling and historic for our film to be part of such dynamic programming, a platform making a commitment to amplifying diverse stories and voices, a mandate which we need now, more than ever. We hope our film and the music, artists and creators it celebrates will help to center Black excellence and Black joy. It’s so exciting to see audiences discovering Ellis Haizlip as this hidden figure and unsung hero. Creating this love letter to Black culture helps to elevate all of the significant contributions African Americans and people of color have made to the culture and to the nation.”
“After seeing Melissa’s doc, I knew I wanted everyone to see it. This documentary showcases one of our Queer icons who never received his just due. He put Black people center stage and didn’t care if it was a huge success. He just wanted to leave an impact, and that he did,” says Lena Waithe.
The much-anticipated Mr. SOUL! soundtrack will be available on Hillman Grad Records / Def Jam Recordings, a division of UMG Recordings, Inc. The first single off the soundtrack will be “Show Me Your Soul,” performed by Lalah Hathaway, and written by Robert Glasper, Lalah Hathaway, Muhammad Ayers and Melissa Haizlip.
For more information on Mr. SOUL!, please visit www.mrsoulmovie.com and @mrsoulthemovie on Instagram and Twitter.
About Melissa Haizlip
Melissa Haizlip is an award-winning filmmaker who has earned many accolades for her films. “Mr. SOUL!” has received 32 nominations and won 19 awards, including the Critics Choice Documentary Award for Best First Feature Documentary; the Best Music Documentary at the IDA Doc Awards; the Best Feature Documentary at the Pan African Film & Arts Festival; the Audience Award for Best Feature at AFI DOCS Film Festival in Washington, D.C.; the HBO Jury Award and Audience Award at the Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival; the Library of Congress Lavine / Ken Burns Prize for Film Finalist Award; and the Audience Award at the Woodstock Film Festival. The film made a splash at the BFI London Film Festival and the Tribeca Film Festival. It was also nominated for Outstanding Achievement in a Debut Feature Film at the Cinema Eye Honors. She serves on the Board of Directors of the Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville, New York and is currently co-executive producing an original docu-series about Women in Hip-Hop for Netflix.
About HILLMAN GRAD PRODUCTIONS
Hillman Grad Productions is a development and production company committed to creating art that goes against the status quo and gives opportunity to marginalized peoples by providing a platform for diverse voices across all mediums. Founded by Emmy Award-winning writer, Lena Waithe, and Rishi Rajani, the company currently has projects at Netflix, BET, Disney, Amazon, Universal, Focus and MGM. Their film slate includes the award-winning films The Forty-Year-Old Version and Queen & Slim. They are developing a Sammy Davis, Jr. biopic based on his daughter Tracey Davis’ book Sammy Davis Jr.: My Father, and the documentary film about the Ogwumike sisters, with Joie Jacoby directing, which will tell the sisters’ inspiring story of excellence – exploring their triumph, struggles, and the family’s Nigerian roots along the way. Hillman Grad Productions will also produce Being Mary: The Mary Tyler Moore Documentary, with James Adolphus directing and releasing in 2022, marking the company’s first documentary project from its inception. On the television side, they produced The Chi, BET’s hit series Twenties, Them, and are in development on BET+ Birth of Cool, Twenties the After Show hosted by B. Scott, and Neil Paik’s Six by Eight Press short story Reawakening, for Amazon Studios.
Additionally, Hillman Grad Productions is committed to opening the doors for other talented individuals who may not traditionally have access to the entertainment industry. Such initiatives include: The Hillman Grad Mentorship Lab, which offers opportunities for marginalized storytellers to connect, grow, and accelerate their careers in television and film through personalized instruction from industry professionals in the fields of television writing, screen acting, and executive development; the Rising Voices Initiative in partnership with Indeed, which allowed 10 BIPOC filmmakers to create short films with a production budget of $100,000 each; and the ‘Defining Moments’ initiative in partnership with ID, which is a paid training program led by ID’s team of experts, designed to launch candidates into the field without requiring the industry connections or college experience common to entry level programs. Most recently, Hillman Grad Productions has partnered with Def Jam Recordings to announce the creation of Hillman Grad Records, a label that is committed to identifying and developing underrepresented artists and priming them for long term success in the music industry.