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Port Townsend Meaningful Movies – Mr. SOUL!  By Natalie Jude Johnson

by February 23, 2021 0

On February 8th the Meaningful Movies Project presented a free screening of Mr. SOUL!, a documentary film about SOUL! a television show hosted by Ellis Haizlip which was dedicated to celebrating the artistic culture of Black people. “SOUL,” which aired from 1968 to 1973, featured a plethora of influentials such as Stevie Wonder, Earth Wind and Fire, Al Green, Gladys Knight, Jesse Jackson, and Muhammad Ali. Despite the big splash that SOULl! made in Black communities large and small throughout the nation, its unfortunately short time on-air was no shock to Haizlip. 

Shortly after Richard Nixon was elected as president, he began taking strides to silence the newly emerging voices from the Black community, to take away a platform which was just beginning to make its way into the mainstream.  SOUL! had the pure intentions of showcasing the multifaceted, political, powerful and brilliant intricacies of Black culture, specifically through use of the performative arts, and its removal from air forced many Black artists to be removed again from the public eye, only to be returned when it was convenient for those such as Nixon who found themselves to be bitterly comfortable in their positions of great privilege. Nixon began a policy to destroy all black programming on television and was taped saying, “I just wanna stop this crap. Now the fight is how do we get at this without our saying that we’re trying to kick Bill Moyers and some Black off the damn air?” The Black community, refusing to be silenced,  pushed on past the last day of airing and continued to project its voice, eventually solidifying the complexities of Black culture in the eye of the general public. Mr. SOUL! renounced the tropes of Black people in mainstream media as the only version of a people, and broadcast to the world the sheer resilience and artistry of Black culture.

The Meaningful Movies Project group in Port Townsend utilized their platform to organize this event which showcased three powerful voices from the Seattle community: C J Dudley, Jaqueline Ware, and Ashanti Proctor. These three incredible artists participated in a post-screening discussion and presentation where the coming and going of SOUL! was discussed in great depth. In response to the emotions stirred by SOUL!, Jaye performed an original spoken-word poem called ‘No Surprise’ to articulate her thoughts and feelings. Her powerful words reflected love and hope as well anger and frustration at a world in which too many Black voices are still silenced. A stanza from her poem highlighted this. 

     No surprise, as leaders on the front lines saw their demise, 

     While anger and hostility stoked the fire inside, 

     Eyeing the prize on and off the air,

     The truly determined did not care!  

CJ also presented a spoken-word piece called ‘Black in America’, depicting the trials and tribulations of modern racial adversity, capturing the struggle wonderfully in one particular line: 

     An upstanding citizen, I keep my hope, 

     But being Black in America I’m walking a tightrope.

Ashanti, last but not least, chose to use her lovely, smooth singing voice to provide two beautiful musical pieces, ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ and ‘The Black National Anthem’, providing a peek into the emotionality stirred by the film and all of its connotations. This event reminded all present that every one of us needs to come together and raise our voices ‘till earth and heaven ring with the harmonies of liberty.’

 

This film was made possible through the ITVS Indie Lens program.

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