Mr. SOUL! is a documentary chronicling the development and eventual end of the Black variety show SOUL! featuring Black artists and entertainers alike. Ellis Hazlip, the brainchild of SOUL!, is shown to be a visionary ahead of his time. SOUL! was celebrated and considered to be America’s first “Black Tonight Show”. Before Oprah, before Arsenio Hall, there was Ellis Hazlip aka Mr. SOUL! Coincidentally, the show did feature a teenage Arsenio Hall as a guest.
To celebrate the documentary’s premiere, Amanda Seales will host a virtual kickback Sunday, August 30th at 4 pm PT/7 pm ET online with a bevy of known creatives, artists, and entertainers. The following guests are scheduled to appear: Filmmaker Melissa Haizlip; actor and Executive Producer Blair Underwood; legendary director/producer Stan Lathan (who also appears in the film); Grammy® winner and the film’s composer Robert Glasper; award-winning writer, poet, and activist Nikki Giovanni; award-winning poets/musicians The Last Poets and Felipe Luciano; the R&B group Black Ivory; and the iconic author, poet, and professor Sonia Sanchez.
“Our Mr. SOUL! PREMIERE KICKBACK will be just like a re-creation of the SOUL! show for a new audience, with these amazing guests in conversation with Amanda Seales. Amanda will moderate a conversation with both artists from the film and the original series, to talk about the cultural impact of SOUL! and its special guests, like James Baldwin and Nikki Giovanni, and the legacy of Ellis Haizlip and SOUL! for a millennial audience,” says the film’s director Melissa Haizlip.
Mr. Soul will premiere this Friday, August 28th at over 60 theaters across the country in the virtual cinema space. The film premiered at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival where it was gained much support and has won 17 awards, including; the International Documentary Association (IDA) Best Music Documentary, AFI Docs Audience Award, and Woodstock Best Documentary.
The tickets to the star-studded virtual kickback are part of the MR.SOUL! ticket package which can be be purchased here. The event promises to be a recreated experience from the SOUL! television experience show with tons of entertainment.
Mr. SOUL! is directed, written, and produced by Melissa Haizlip, featuring music composed and performed by Grammy® winning musician/composer Robert Glasper, with the voice of Ellis Haizlip by Grammy® / Emmy® winner Blair Underwood – one of the film’s Executive Producers. The virtual cinema release run is presented together by Shoes In The Bed Productions and Open Your Eyes & Think MF.
If you didn’t attend the DC Black Film Festival this past weekend then you missed out on some really great films from some talented creatives. Hollywood still struggles to represent diversity in the industry but, with events like the DC Black Film Festival, people can enjoy quality films about people of color and not the rhetoric that Hollywood loves to repeat.
There were over 50 films shown that had me laughing, crying (I call it eye sweat, lol), and, most of all, sympathizing with some of the characters on screen that look that like me.
“People of color have a constant frustration of not being represented, or being misrepresented, and these images go around the world.” – Spike Lee
Below are some films that I loved.
We Want to Make It A film that explores the journey of young musicians (Jourdan, 14yrs old, and Tarron) as they strive to make their way from performing on the DC metro to stardom. It’s a very well done piece that shines light on Black youth doing something positive with their talents instead of becoming a statistic out on the streets.
Me Time A hilarious short, done by Iyabo Boyd, that had me laughing the whole time. This film goes into the thoughts of a young Black woman (portrayed by Adnike Thomas) who just wants to find her own peace of mind while reaching her happy place and maybe an orgasm along the way. This film has a Nutty Professor feel as the very talented actress takes on all the various roles in the film. I went from chuckling in my seat to choking on my water with laughter.
Slave Cry A film, by Jai Johnson, speaks volumes on the issue of token characters that Black people are offered in hollywood. With films like Black Panther having much success and displaying diversity in the Black community, hollywood still has a long way to go. Slave Cry was a well written film that made me feel so bad for the lead character, played by Courtney Jamison, as she learns that no matter the level of talent, the entertainment business still needs to work on diversifying characters in their projects. Thank God we have a well selected Ariel for the Little Mermaid and thank God Jai Jackson made this film artist can relate to.
Roasted A hilarious short film that has a Ferris Bueller’s Day Off feel which follows a coffee shop employee who talks about his work day dealing with customers, making coffee, putting up with his boss, working solo and enjoying time listening to music while writing. His expression and body language change from animated to annoyance as he switches his focus from the audience to the characters in the film.
Emmett One of the standout features about a boy genius (Miles Brown from Grown-ish) that deals with social issues, being a championed student of color, and adapting to change and maturity. This great film was both relatable and touching as it took me back to my days in my youth and adapting to life as an over achiever in academics. This film sets the tone as it really touches on some of the issues we’ve all dealt with.
LiME A story of a young man’s hardwork and success of achieving his goals threatened by bullies who attack him based on his lifestyle. Truly a touching story of how cruel people can be and how beautiful the human spirit can manifest surrounded by the right crowd. Creator/director, Donta Story, put together a great short.
East of the River East of the River, by Hannah Peterson, is a compelling story of how a young girl, her highschool mate, and former schoolmate now sex worker connect through exploring the streets of DC. I think this film had great chemistry amongst the actors. Their relationship was very ambivalent, because it felt a little romantic. Nonetheless, the young DC natives did an amazing job!
Una Great Movie Explores the world of a Black female screenwriter and her hopes of getting her film picked up. The film also follows the lead character in her film as the two worlds reflect the difficulties of having creative and unconventional Black love stories, as the character portrayed in the screenwriter’s film looks to rekindle an old love that is of Mexican descent. The creator and director, Jennifer Sharp, explained the difficulty in getting new and fresh content
The Call Angel Weaver’s work is a film that captures the moment when a girl receives the phone call from her brother locked up in the prison system. The film showcased the unsettling experience of receiving the call, with a hilarious beginning that shows that the call can come at any moment.
Corey Creator/director/actor, Steven St. Pierre, put together a touching film about a Black man that has a difficult relationship with his wife, who has a drug addiction, and is raising his daughter while shielding her from the ugly truth about her mom. By the end of the film, the audience discovers why Corey works hard to keep his emotions together and his daughter safe emotionally.
The Right Swipe A show about two female friends that start a business helping men find matches on a dating app by curating their profiles. Although I have had little experience on dating apps, I found the pilot interesting and humorous. When I asked co-creator and Maryland native, Kyra Jones, about the show, she explained, “Through our research, we found that Black women and Asian men are less likely to get different matches. Even the cast is diverse, we wanted to make sure that we brought Black love to the forefront of the show. The show discusses how complex and how difficult it is to find romantic partners.” Watch the pilot here!
Together This film was one of the moving films of the festival. The story of Black love between an older married couple as they hold true to their vows through sickness and health. The film left me and those in attendance in tears as we saw the astonishing acting of EFE (2019 DC Black Films Best Actress) and her co-star show love at its best. There is talks of this being developed into a full feature film and I can’t wait to see it.
Having the Peele Appeal Night at the table and Dog Person are films from the film festival that had a Jordan Peele feel to them. It’s no surprise that the creatives of the films are inspired by Jordan Peele.
Night at the table A horror film that had definitely gave me a chill, from start to finish, as the film introduces a normal Black family that is more than just that. The director was inspired by the film Hereditary and even coached the lead actress to channel the mother of the film Hereditary. The multi-talented creative describes her films as being consequential pain in two words.
Dog Person If you loved watching the film Us by Peele or Tusk then you have to see this short film by Justin Fairweather. It’s a little disturbing in some parts but entertaining nonetheless. With a good performance by Jordanna Hernandez, Dog Person left me wanting to see what more films from Fairweather and hopefully a feature that have audiences everywhere entertained.
Who is Kevin Sampson?
Kevin Sampson is the BrainChild behind the DC Black Film Festival. He said it all started when Think Like a Man 2 came out and he was a little upset while he watched it because it was less about Black love and more of the Kevin Hart show. He explained that “We (Black people) only get a few movies per year and this is how we wasted it and maybe sometimes we need that.”
He then wrote an open letter to creatives everywhere explaining that black creatives have to do better. Many people including some hollywood actors commented on it. This inspired him to start a kickstarter for a documentary about Black Hollywood. The Kickstarter wasn’t successful but that led Kevin to create the DC Black Film festival. A place where Black people can showcase their talent and love for Black people.
Fast Facts About Kevin Sampson:
Graduated from American University Film school with a MFA in Film & Electronic Media
Created Picture Lock, an entertainment website, radio show/podcast, and hour long film review TV show.
Director of the Rosebud Film Festival since 2013.
Created Picture Lock PR to represent independent films.
The DC Black Film Festival was an amazing event and a success in it’s third year. It is important that we have events like these to not only show people of color on screen or Black culture but the diversity within the Black community. I think the DC Black Film festival will continue to grow to inspire young creatives and encourage people to watch quality films.
Winners From the Festival:
DC Best Film“ We Want to Make It”
Best Student Film “Masks”
Best Web Series“The History of White People in America”
Best Short Film“East of the River”
Best Experimental Film“Here”
Best Documentary Feature“Owned: The Tale of Two Americas”
A crowd of people sat in silence and awe at a dance performance that was beautiful, captivating and fluid to the accompaniment of music provided by the talented musician, Yo-Yo Ma. Though there weren’t many if any, people of color in the crowd as this was in Beijing, China, what mattered was the headliner was a young Black man from Memphis, Tennessee named Lil’ Buck.
It was a thing of beauty – a man doing what he loves and performing art for the world to see. His performance was something that Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. would be proud of, a young man being seen for his talent and not just his color. In a world where Black men are vilified, subjected to toxic masculinity and seen on the wrong side of police brutality, it was refreshing to see a glimpse into a world that could exist without racism or discrimination.
When asked about his performance, Lil’ Buck stated, “I never really thought about my performance in that way. For me it wasn’t about performing for the audience, I’m trying to make them feel a certain way. I think that’s why a lot of people gravitate towards me because they don’t see anything else because I don’t. When I’m performing, I am doing my best to become music. It’s a real thing for me. Especially to music that has a story already in it, like the Swan. You can hear the story within it. For me, I can visually see the journey in that song. I don’t come up with anything to impress people, I just feel the music and bring people into my imagination.”
Lil’ Buck performing during the documentary Lil’Buck: Real Swan. (Photo provided by Tribeca Film Festival)
The video is a snippet from the documentary “Lil’ Buck: Real Swan” that world premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival; it was also the part that stuck out the most to me. To be honest, it made me misty-eyed because it’s what every person wants, or at least what every human being should want — to be able to live in peace and love freely. About the documentary, Andrea Passafiume wrote, “In this exuberant documentary, director Louis Wallecan takes an in-depth look at this extraordinary artist whose passion, drive, discipline, and talent have blazed a unique new path in the world of dance that has included performing all over the world, touring with Madonna, mentoring young dance students, and becoming a passionate advocate for arts education.”
Lil’ Buck: A Young Man From Memphis
Growing up in the Memphis skating scene, particularly at Crystal Palace Roller Rink, was the big thing for youth to keep them entertained and off the streets. Once the skates were taken off and the rink was open for dancing, that’s when the main fun began and people were able to show off their new jookin moves. Jookin is a popular dance style in Memphis for all ages that stems from breakdancing and the gangsta walk. This is how the film, Lil’ Buck: Real Swan, starts to chronicle the life of Lil’ Buck.
“I was born in Chicago and my family moved to Memphis when I was eight. Even back in Chicago, I can remember seeing footwork in indigenous street dancing.” – Lil Buck explained about his roots in dancing and upbringing.
Charles “Lil’ Buck” Riley developed a passion for jookin and dance at the young age of 12. From there he had the desire to become the best dancer he could be. He became so impressed with the length of time that ballerinas could stay on their toes that he decided to take up ballet.
“Growing up I always thought these dancers in videos were making all this money, we literally thought they were rich. All these dancers are next to celebrities like Lil’ Wayne, Madonna, and all these people. Some were not as good as my friends and I, so we would be like, “How the f*ck are they on TV?” We would ask this question every day and tell ourselves that’s where we needed to be.” – Lil’ Buck
Lil’ Buck said that in the beginning, he just wanted to be in videos and put jookin on the map. To be able to reach where he is now. Thinking about how small his dreams were, it just inspires him to dream larger and tell others to do the same. He further explained to not be afraid to dream big and to go after it! It’s not enough just to dream, its the work you put into it. He remembers when he experienced bloody toes and toenails falling off, trying to stand on his toes in his sneakers. Lil’ Buck reminisced, “Imagine walking around all day in school on your toes because you want to build that strength and to be on the level where you surpass ballerinas. It was painful but worth it!”
With some dancers, their goal is to tour with a different artist but not too many dancers see themselves as the artist that has the same strength and power as a singer or actor. They can make a good living for themselves and their family, creating generational wealth. Dancers like Lil’Buck, don’t always have that platform but their art is just as captivating. A lot of kids today are gravitating towards this instant success instead of really investing in themselves and really building themselves, enjoying that journey towards their goal. Lil’ Buck hopes to be a good example of enduring and enjoying the journey.
Lil’ Buck being interviewed by Felipe Patterson (aka Dapper Dr Feel) of Taji Mag at the Roxy hotel during the Tribeca Film Festival in New York. (Video by William Baldon)
Lil’Buck discussed that his inspirations are Earl “Snake Hips” Tucker, the Nicholas Brothers, Little Buck, Buck and Bubbles, Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, and Michael Jackson. He explained the way they combined film and dance was inspiring to him. The way they combined storytelling and dance was amazing to him. He remembers that Michael Jackson, the King of Pop, always called his music videos short films.
“Those that inspire me are my peers, Daniel Price, G-Nerd, Jah Quincey, Caviar Taylor (On My Toes), BoBo and all the rappers like 3×6 Mafia, DJ Squeaky, they created what I’m into.” – Lil Buck talking about others that inspire him.
Bruce Lee was one of his biggest inspirations because of his philosophy on life. Not isolating yourself mentally to learning only one thing. He was open to learning and putting together different forms of martial arts. He’s always into strengthening himself and thinking outside the box.
The doc starts off with smooth jookin moves, that impressed me and reminded me of the great dancing films like Breakin’. I wasn’t sure what the aim of the film was but this direction definitely kept me engaged. It didn’t feel corny or fake like the multiple Step Up films that lack the originality of dancers in this film. Every one of them passionate about their craft and every move.
The film was amazing and well done down the other performers describing their love of jookin and their performance that followed to the storytelling of a young Buck’s evolution of aspiring background dancer to a headlining performer. The ending of the film is creative as it has a dancing Lil’ Buck transitioning from background to foreground and left of the screen to the opposite side, representing the journey the project has taken you on.
It’s a film that everyone should see, especially the little boys of color, to show them that they should follow their heart and that they can truly be what they want to be in life.
Thank you Lil’ Buck and Lois Wallecan for the great film about such an inspiring young black man!
Tamara Shogaolu and Dapper Dr. Feel aka Felipe Patterson. (Photo by William Baldon)
Love is hard to find in this world, so image finding a bond with someone so deeply that you can’t stand being away from them. Now imagine having to hide that relationship, restricted from fully exploring it in fear that you will be disowned, harmed physically, or killed. So you escape with your partner, leaving behind family friends and a life within a community, to have emotional and relationship freedom. That is the case for the two women in the virtual reality (VR) immersive, Another Dream, by Tamara Shogaolu.
Another Dream started out as a collection of interviews that were collected by Tamara and journalist Nada ElKouny over two years in Egypt. They interviewed many women, ethnic minorities, and people of the LGBTQ community about their experiences.
These stories needed to be heard because their relationships, in the eyes of some people in Egypt, are seen as immoral; having the livelihood and lives of people in the LGBTQ community threaten due to aggressive homophobia.
“After the Revolution, people became very open and started to reimagine what Egypt could be. What stood out to me about the experience was a lot of the queer voices and stories had optimism that things were going to change,” Tamara Shogaolu explained about her interviews.
Another Dream has more themes of discrimination within the project than that of the LGBTQ. When it came to explaining this Tamara stated, “For me, it’s not only about the LGBTQ community in Egypt, it’s also about when the characters come to Europe they face racism. You leave one form of discrimination to another form of discrimination. I think that is a global issue of how we create our own empathy and compassion so that we can all be better humans.” She then added, “With this project, the intersectionality of their identity goes that they are LGBTQ but they are also people of color, and even within the LGBTQ they face discrimination.”
Tamara mentions that the word refugee is misinterpreted, elaborating, “The word refugee has been highly politicized. If you really think about it, it’s someone that is forced from their home and I think people forget that. It means we don’t want you here and there are people that have whole lives, like the characters in our story. One is an engineer and the other is a medical professional. They have to leave that and start from scratch. They are doing well, back in school re-studying the occupation that they were doing, in another language, while only being there for two years. That’s amazing.”
FYI: There are some cases where authorities in Egypt have stepped in opposition to the LGBTQ community. In this case, eight men were jailed after their gay wedding video went viral showing two men kissing.
The Another Dream VR Experience
Dapper Dr. Feel experiencing the VR immersive Another Dream (Photo by: William Baldon)
Another Dream is a virtual reality immersive that pulls you into a world where two lesbian lovers have their relationship and love tested through many challenges. Two lovers are first introduced to you with their dog while sitting on a couch. As their story begins, the environment changes to match the narration of the two. The colors and visuals evoked emotions that allowed us to sympathize more with the couple telling the story.
The experience is very interactive, having intermissions where I had to use a laser pointer (almost a like a lightsaber from Star Wars, so I was geeked!) to trace positive Arabic words. Upon completion, I moved on to the next part of the story.
The most beautiful scene was that of the city; it’s a mix of colorful hues and sounds of the environment that are highlighted by the dark of night. I found myself floating as if I were on a magic carpet ride from Aladdin when exploring the area. It’s definitely amazing work by the VR and sound team.
During the journey, I got to a part of the story where the two lovers escape to Europe overnight because their love for each other is not accepted and one of them was set to wed in an arranged marriage. At this point, I felt the cold and dark of night, the fear of being captured by those in search of the two or just any random stranger that could harm the women on their search for refuge.
When the characters arrive in Europe, you feel the eyes of judgment and unfamiliarity of them being women of color as characters shop at the local grocery.
Eventually, they become comfortable in the fact that the only thing that matters is their love for one another. By the end of the experience, I felt happy for the two coming to the revelation that they were safe and although they are starting their lives together, they can do it happily together.
FYI: Another Dream is part of an animated transmedia series, Queer in a Time of Forced Migration. The first part of the series began with the first short Half A Life.
Who is Tamara Shogaolu?
Tamara Shogaolu and Dapper Dr. Feel aka Felipe Patterson. (Photo by William Baldon)
Tamara Shogaolu is a talented director/creator/artist from a multifaceted cultural background. While studying economics at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA, she was convinced by a professor to study film after creatively using it in her economics research projects.
From there she earned her MFA from the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts and her previous work, Half-Life, is a short film that has garnered many awards. Not only has her work has been featured all over the world in galleries and festivals, but she also is the creative director for Ado Ato Pictures.
Seeing Through It All
I didn’t know what to expect when I first put on the VR gear but I am glad I went to the experience with an open mind and with no expectation. This experience is a learning tool that may help others understand that love shouldn’t only be celebrated and hindered.
With the work that Tamara and her crew have put into this project, I am happy to say they have achieved the goal of both creativeness, experience, and informing the audience. Hopefully, Another Dream will touch enough people that it will allow people to safely and openly love whomever they want without any hindrance.
If Beale Street Street Could Talk, directed by Barry Jenkins, is a film that explores the dynamics of Black love. The foundation of love in the film is women who are shown supporting their male counterparts which prompts the question, how can Black men show more love and support to Black women? Taji Mag spoke with the cast at the film premiere in DC about some successful ways they can go about it.
Ki Ki Layne discussed the importance of Black men being more vulnerable stating, “I think it starts with really allowing themselves to give and receive love. I think with Black men there is a cutoff, the need to do so much on their own and to have everything together to take care of the household. I think the support will come when Black men make more room to give love and to be loved by Black women.”
Award-winning actress, Regina King, expressed the importance of supporting Black women saying “First of all, start with the love you feel with your mother. That energy and love you feel for your mother, some of that should be present. Obviously, you love your mother differently than you love your woman, but that is where the genesis exist.”
When asked what Black men could do to better show support she explained, “I would suggest they see this film If Beale Street Could Talk if they don’t have a clue. And tell Black women they are beautiful and really mean it.” When asked if Regina raised her 22-year-old son with those values she explained, “My son is taking off his hat, opening doors, and calls his mom every day and tells me he loves me every day.”
The leading actor of the film, Stephan James (Race), also expressed the importance of his mother and the support of Black women, explaining, “My mother has had a great impact on my life. The best woman in my life, that’s a no-brainer because she raised my two brothers and me. She was definitely a great influence on us.”
Black women have been the backbone for many families, especially in a world of male dominance in the workplace, unequal pay, etc. We as Black men have to continue to step up and show our support. If you need help figuring out how to do so, follow the advice of Regina King and go see If Beale Street Could Talk in theaters everywhere November 30th.