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.
Steven St. Pierre is a budding creative/actor I met at last year’s DC Black Film Festival. While interviewing him during my coverage of the film festival, he mentioned how he started film making just recently and that Ava Duvernay had been an inspiration to start on a desirable path towards acting. After the interview, we kept in contact and I watched his progression. Little did I know, he would be achieving a lot more than he could imagine. I had an opportunity to catch up with the rising creative.
Dapper Dr Feel (DDF): How does it feel to have so much success for your short film, Corey?
Steven St. Pierre (SSP): The success has been great! The way I have been perceived for making something great, for myself. Last time we spoke in person, I was halfway into my festival run and we went to places like Canada and DC and I had entered the film Corey in multiple film festivals in the New York area.”
Note: St. Pierre’s short film Corey has won multiple awards that include but are not limited to: Best Short film at the Validate Yourself Film Festival, Wavemaker Award at the Everybody Digital Film Festival Black History Month Edition, Audience Choice award at the Astoria film festival, Best Short Film winner and Grand Prize Winner at the Queens City Film Festival.
DDF: You won big at the Queens City Film Festival, what’s next?
SSP: After I won the grand prize award, I now have the opportunity to have my next short produced from the Queens City Film Festival. The prize is worth $50,000. Taking the passion I had into my own work turned into something I could have never imagined.
DDF: That’s truly a blessing! I remember you telling me about the trials and tribulations you had putting Corey together. Your co-star, Chantal Maurice, put on a great performance, how has her career been since the short film?
SSP: Chantal has since moved to Atlanta P-Valley (Starz), Queen Sugar, Dynasty, and other projects that are coming out later this year. She’s killing the game.
DDF: What women have influenced you?
SSP: My mother and grandmother, the women who raised me in my household. Just seeing their work ethic. My mom worked two jobs, to this day she still works two jobs to help support my grandmother because she is not doing well. Just really seeing all the sacrifices shes made, as an adult, I have developed a deeper appreciation and respect for her.
I have to give a shout to my work mom and my assistant director Catherine, she just retired. Always supported me, always had my back, she was amazing. When you are in the workplace, you always need an ally and she definitely was that for me.
Ava Duvernay has really been an influence on me. I don’t know how many people are aware that before she was a filmmaker, she was a publicist. She was pounding the pavement, making everyone else’s dream come true and she decided, at what some people would think as an older age, to pivot her whole career. I feel like that has been my journey as well.
“I was a film publicist, so I represented a lot of filmmakers and I was always around them. I [started thinking], ‘They’re just regular people, like me, with ideas. I’ve got ideas.’ That’s literally how it started. It was definitely a career change; I didn’t make my first little short until I was 32.” – Ava Duvernay
DDF: You had your biggest role as a co-star on High Maintenance, how was that experience?
SSP: I got that role not too long after I spoke with you in DC, it’s my first major network role. I felt like I finally cracked that code. Going out on auditions is tough, especially being new to the scene, but it’s going on four years now. It brought two passions together because I am playing a basketball player. I played ball growing up, so going into the audition I felt comfortable. I got offered the job via email and was excited! That was the most excited I have been in a long time.
DDF: What are your other goals?
SSP: My ultimate goals are to establish myself in the industry so I can have the visibility to reach people from places in my community. Letting them know they can do anything they are passionate about. Even today, I go to a lot of career days for my friends who are teachers or are a part of programs for children. I think it helps children see someone like me, who is making it, but not a huge celebrity, to let them know goals are attainable. Otherwise, if they see someone who is a huge celebrity they won’t think things are attainable. They can also see the grind I am going through, so when I make it further into my acting career, it will hopefully inspire them.
Steven St. Pierre looks to continue his success as a creative and achieve many of his entertainment goals during his career change. With Ava Duvernay serving as an inspiration, St. Pierre knows that, with hard work and persistence, the sky is the limit.
Follow Steven St. Pierre on social media or check out his web page here.
Morgan Cooper made a huge impression with his trending Fresh Prince of Bel-Air inspired short, Bel-Air, and the filmmaker continues his success. The award-winning filmmaker snagged two awards in the 2020 Tribeca X category of the Tribeca Film Festival. Morgan Cooper won “Best Feature Film” for U Shoot Videos? and “Best Short” for Pay Day, winning in the two out of the three categories of the Tribeca X category. Taji Mag was able to catch up with the multi-award-winning filmmaker to see how his projects came to life.
Dapper Dr. Feel (DDF): What moment did you decide you want to make films?
Morgan Cooper (MC): My career started on my 18th birthday. I bought a Cannon P2I DSLR camera at Best Buy and, with that camera, I made a career. I felt like I had something to say through the medium. From that moment on, I just showed up and did the work every day. I took small steps to improve my skillset. Over the years I was able to find my voice.
U Shoot Videos?
U Shoot Videos is a powerful narrative following a filmmaker trying to excel in his career field. Being young, Black, and gifted but denied the opportunity to make commercials due to his lack of experience and no film school, Moji must figure out how to keep his dream alive and hurdle the obstacles in his path.
DDF:U Shoot Videos? provides a narrative some Black creatives can relate to. What has been the most interesting response to your film?
MC: Some of the people that reached out felt it was their story. They felt seen and heard through the film. I can’t think of any better feedback than that. There were people that were thinking about giving up, feeling so alone during their journey in filmmaking, and, after seeing this film, it gives them an extra boost. I was overwhelmed with how positive and how beautiful the feedback was.
DDF: There was a lot of support for the lead character Moji, from characters like Aaron and Moji’s brother. Was that intentional during the course of the film?
MC: The show of support was very important to me. You don’t see Black men supporting each other enough on screen. Everything in the film is based on real reactions that I had during the course of my career. I felt it was my responsibility to show these really honest moments where Black men support each other without any alternative motives. Like Aaron telling Moji “I’m down to help you because I want to learn. I have an interest in what you do and you inspire me.” I am really proud of that moment and I hope to see more support among Black males like that on film in the future.
PayDay is a collaborative project with Color Creative, Synchrony, Gian Spoon agency, and written by actress/comedian Gabrielle Dennis. The short follows Nyssa, a young woman who desires to open her own business but spends money like there is no tomorrow. On her payday, she gets caught in a time loop “Groundhog Day” style and is unable to break it until figures out a way to make better decisions.
DDF: How did you become apart of the PayDay Project and how was it working with Gabrielle Dennis?
MC: Denise from Color Creative reached out to my agent about the PayDay project. It just looked like an interesting and fun piece. I pitched on it and got the job. I locked arms with Color Creative, Giant Spoon, and Synchrony to make the film happen. It was a long two-day shoot but it turned out really nice in the end.
Gabrielle was great to work with. She brought a lot of enthusiasm to the table. She has a brilliant comedic mind. It was very fun being on set and creating space for her, letting her talent really shine. She trusted my vision from the start and throughout the shoot. We gave ourselves space to express the ideas that we both wanted to bring to the project. We were both aligned with the why behind the project and it was just a tremendous project from start to finish.
DDF: How did you become so good at providing the right light for people of color while you shoot?
MC: Perfecting that craft started from who I am, understand my background and culture. As a Black man, I wanted to make sure people of color are captured on film with care. That’s really the root of it. From there it filters into lighting, lens selection, and crafting the scene. Understanding how Black people have been captured on film historically, which hasn’t been great. Over the years I have tested, researched, and studied different techniques to maximize the quality in which our skin is captured. I often think about the actors who are overlooked especially from the city where I am from – Kansas City. With the opportunity for the actors to be on set, they can’t be wondering how they look, they have to just trust your direction. As a director, it’s something I take seriously. I like to make sure I capture actors in an honest way.
DDF: Have you had other filmmakers ask you about lighting while filming actors of color?
MC: I have had other colleagues that have sought out advice on lighting, different fusion techniques, transitions, lenses, etc.
DDF: What director inspires you?
MC: Ernst Dickerson has been one of the biggest inspirations of my career. He’s a former cinematographer who shot films like Do the Right Thing. He’s a brilliant cinematographer who goes into writing and directing. He penned some of my favorite films like Juice. I followed the same trajectory – working as a cinematographer then transitioning into writing and directing. I’m actually getting a chance to speak with him after this interview.
DDF: How does it feel to win Best Short and Best Feature in the Tribeca X?
MC: It feels amazing! I feel very humbled and I am full of gratitude, to be recognized by such a prestigious institution. More than anything, I am so happy for all of my collaborators and I am so thankful to the team for putting together these projects. I can not say enough about the honor.
DDF: What would be your dream project?
MC: I have several dream projects. I can’t really discuss them but I am very excited about the dream projects I will get to bring to life over the next several years. So stay tuned.
DDF: What actor/actress would you like to work with?
MC: I definitely want to work with Mahersla Ali and Janelle Monae. I think they are great actors. When you watch them, you are really transported into the moment they are expressing. I think we would be able to create something special together.
We hope to see more amazing films from the talented filmmaker. Hopefully, one of his dream projects will feature Mahersala Ali and Janelle Monae and will be one that is celebrated as a cult classic. Keep up with Morgan Cooper on Instagram at @cooperfilms.
This year, director and writer, Kasi Lemmons, will bring one of the most heroic and inspiring Black woman figures to the screen, Harriet Tubman. The film, Harriet, stars Cynthia Erivo, Leslie Odom Jr,. and Jonelle Monae. It is a biopic about the life of Harriet Tubman from her first escape to freedom to being the conductor of the Underground Railroad. The film premiere was held on Oct. 22, 2019 in Washington, D.C. at the Smithsonian African American Musem. Taji Mag was able to speak with the director, Kasi Lemmons, about her creative process and development of the film.
Dapper Dr Feel (DDF): What was the importance of making this film and will this film impact the future of storytelling from the perspective of Black people?
Kasi Lemmons ( KL): As filmmakers, we always ask ourselves, what are the great characters? I write from the characters all the time. Harriet Tubman was one of the greatest figures who has lived. So for me, the fact that no feature film has ever been made about Harriet and she is just such an important person for Americans, especially African American women… This hero needs to be brought to the world, a hero to me on the level of Mother Teresa and Gandhi. She’s a real superhero.
In terms of our future as storytellers, the more we can tell compelling stories that people relate to, the better. There are so many women directors right now and there are so many stories to tell, it’s always been a matter of is the industry ready to accept these stories. Now we are in a period where we can have a Black person as the lead and hero in a movie and bring characters like Harriet to the screen.
(Photo courtesy of Focus Features)
(DDF): What makes this film different from the other films that are about Black slavery?
(KL): Harriet, to me, has always been a story about freedom. If I were to ask you to tell me the story of Harriet Tubman, you would say that she escaped from slavery and then she went back to liberate others. To me, those were like the verbs, that is the Harriet Tubman story.
(DDF): What was your reaction when you found out that you were doing this film?
(KL): My heart started racing, they just kind of sprung it on me and I didn’t have time to think about it, which was good in a way because I went to a meeting and the producer said it in the room. They surprised me because I thought I was just going to a general meeting. I was able to check my pulse to measure my own reaction and, as I am experiencing it, I am thinking, “your heart is really racing, I think you are very interested in this!”
(DDF): You have mentioned in one of your articles that this feeling of excitement is like falling in love. Can you explain?
(KL): Find a good film to work on is always like falling in love to me. There’s always a process of courtship; you’re getting to be friends and then all a sudden you fall in love. With this film, I was really intrigued by it from the very beginning. The love started in my research; she is an incredible presence in my life.
Lemmons with her husband Vondie Curtis Hall and son. (Photo courtesy of Focus Features)
(DDF): What was your approach to creating the premonition scenes that Harriet experienced?
(KL): I went through a lot of stages with it, then boiled it down to its most simple form, because I felt like they were like flashes of inspiration. They took many different forms, she had dreams, trances, sometimes just flashes of premonitions, and seizures. So I started to think about what seizures felt like and tried to make a shocking type of image.
(DDF): You did some very creative things to create the premonition scene with the various colors used. How did that come about?
(KL): When I looked up seizures and really tried to read people’s experiences of what seizures looked like to them, I would find the word monochromatic over and over again. I thought that is what I was trying to make it look like.
(DDF): “What is a man to with a woman touched by God” is a line in the script that stood out to me. How did you come up with it?
(KL): It’s interesting, that is a scene that I wrote the night before we shot it. The producers and executive producers at Focus Features, wanted me to try and describe what it felt like to Harriet after her husband re-married. So we imagined a scene with Marie where she would tell her what it felt like to her. I put off writing it because it was a hurdle to me – how do you write what God feels like? Then I started to explore what it would it feel like to Harriet, I wrote it the night before the shoot and they (Cynthia Erivo and Janelle Monáe) did it in two takes.
Janelle Monáe as Marie Buchanon. (Photo courtesy of Focus Features)
(DDF): In the film, we see the evolution of the heroic woman icon, how did you go about the character development from Minty to Harriet?
(KS): There is a huge arc that we felt in her character, she almost becomes different people. From an ordinary woman into this almost mythic side of herself, she names herself and she is apart of that. So we named them, Minty, Harriet, and Moses. Everybody participated in the character development; Me, Cynthia, and costume designer, Paul Tazewell. We created her and it was a group effort to give you that arc. From Minty and her dress to when she becomes Harriet in her mission costume, it’s a big arc.
(DDF): What advice would you give to your younger self at the time you made Eve’s Bayou?
(KL): In some ways, I don’t know if I would give myself any advice. Now, where I am in life, I like the way that things unfolded. Take for instance, after I made Eve’s Bayou, I didn’t know if I was going to make another movie but that was a wonderful thing to think at that moment because I was going for broke. So I put everything into it. I’ve had ups and downs in my career. If I could talk myself through those, I would tell myself that you are going to have ups and downs but if you keep going, you get to travel the world, you’ll meet extraordinary people, you’ll work with some of the most talented people and you’ll have a great time.
(DDF): You are also doing a CJ Madam Walker series, what brought you to do that project?
(KL): I have been infatuated with Madam CJ Walker for 20 years. Literally 20 years ago, I was thinking, “You know, it would be dope if we did something about Madam CJ Walker!” So when that came about, I was super excited about being involved in it. Then, Octavia Spencer, she’s perfect for the role. It’s a story that has been interesting for a long time, she is the first self-made Black woman millionaire and you know hair is so special to us black women, we’ve got our own thing. I had a really good time working it.
Kasi Lemmons on set. (Photo courtesy of Focus Features)
(DDF): Do you hope to bring more important black women figures to film or tv? Any ideas?
(KL): Oh, I am sure I will do more films about important Black women figures. Do I have any in mind…maybe? (laughs)
(DDF): You were in the horror films Candyman and Silence of the Lambs. Have you had any input or help in the development of the new Candyman film?
(KL): I have contributed to Candyman already in that I mentor the director for the film, Nia DaCosta, since her first Sundance film. She’s great!
(DDF): Will you make your own horror film?
(KL): There is something that I have in mind but I have to be careful because I am extremely sensitive. I have to protect my energy a lot and be careful of what I bring into my life. When I bring in truth, beauty, and righteousness, it’s a good feeling, so I am afraid and that’s the truth.
The film Harriet was a great film with a lot of exploration of the characters’ bravery, selflessness, spiritually, and intelligence. It stands out as a story about the perseverance of the human spirit against discrimination. Creatively, it is a departure from the usual ‘slave cry’ moments that have become rhetoric in most of the blockbuster slave themed movies and I am thankful for that. Go see Harriet November 1st.
Directed by: Kasi Lemmons
Starring: Cynthia Erivo, Leslie Odom Jr., and Janelle Monae.