From 1968 to 1973, America got SOUL! -- the first "black Tonight Show" -- a groundbreaking PBS television series called SOUL! produced and hosted by Ellis Haizlip. The show was both entertaining and revolutionary, while launching the careers of many of the African American icons of the 20th century, and marking the beginning of diversity in television.
For much of America, SOUL! offered the first glimpse of black culture, music, politics and community, as well as first-ever televised performances and appearances by Earth, Wind & Fire, Arsenio Hall, James Baldwin, Nikki Giovanni, Maya Angelou, Al Green, Ashford & Simpson, and more.
WNET/Channel 13 in New York City - celebrating it's 50th anniversary this year - was the original presenting station of SOUL!, making it a real New York story, one about the arts, culture, and a black, gay, broadcast pioneer who changed the media landscape at the onset of public television. In 1972 and 1973, at the height of the show’s success, Lincoln Center invited Haizlip to produce Soul At The Center, a critically acclaimed, two-year, twelve-day black arts festival at Lincoln Center, which became the first collaborative venture between Lincoln Center and the black community.
The film offers a behind-the-scenes look at this revolutionary program, from its initial conception to its final broadcast, including the very public battle to keep it on the air despite a shifting political landscape. The documentary interweaves Ellis Haizlip’s biography into the narrative following the five seasons of SOUL!, interspersing contemporary interviews, archival material, excerpts from the show, and narration by Keith David.