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Screen Time: Week of February 22

By Tom White

From Melissa Haizlip's 'Mr. SOUL!' Courtesy of Alex Harsley. The subject of the documentary, Ellis Haizlip, sits in the middle of the set of his variety show 'SOUL' surrounded by members of the '70s funk band Mandrill, some members of whom are holding their instruments.

Screen Time is your curated weekly guide to excellent documentaries and nonfiction programs that you can watch at home. 

Premiering February 22 on Independent Lens is Melissa Haizlip’s Mr. SOUL!, which won the 2018 IDA Documentary Award for Best Music Documentary. The film celebrates the public television variety show SOUL!, which ran from 1968 to 1973, as one of the premier showcases for the greatest figures in Black literature, poetry, music and politics. Under the visionary guidance of producer/host Ellis Haizlip (the filmmaker’s uncle), SOUL! was the first national 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 a bevy of great rarely seen archival clips, Mr. SOUL! captures that critical moment in our nation’s cultural rise, and whose impact would continue to resonate across generations and cultures. 

Premiering February 22 on the Criterion Channel, Nationtime, the recently restored documentary from the late IDA Career Achievement Award honoree William Greaves, captures the spirit of the 1972 National Black Political Convention held in Gary, Indiana. This historic event attracted some of the most prominent Black icons of the day—Jesse Jackson, Dick Gregory, Coretta Scott King, Dr. Betty Shabazz and Amira Barka, among others—and the film was narrated by Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte.

Streaming on Netflix is Amend: The Fight for America, a six-part series that explores the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution, which promises liberty and equal protection for all people. The series delves into what a “United States” really means, and it ultimately enlightens, entertains and challenges Americans to live up to that promise. Amend is executive produced by Larry Wilmore and Will Smith, created by Robe Imbriano and Tom Yellin and directed by Kenny Leon and Reinaldo Marcus Green.

Directors Michèle Stephenson and Joe Brewster's Rada Studio partners with WORLD Channel for The Conversation Remix. A follow-up to the team’s 2015 A Conversation on Race series that they produced for New York Times Op-Docs, The Conversation Remix revisits the conversations in light of the unprecedented racial reckoning of 2020. The Remix kicks off with For Our Girls: A Conversation with Black Women

Currently streaming on PBS is The Black Church: This Is Our Story, This Is Our Song, a four-hour, two-part series from executive producer, host and writer Henry Louis Gates, Jr. The series traces the centuries-old story of the Black church in America, from its foundational role as the center of African American survival and grace, organizing and resilience, thriving and testifying, autonomy and freedom, solidarity and speaking truth to power. The documentary reveals how Black people have worshipped and, through their spiritual journeys, improvised ways to bring their faith traditions from Africa to the New World, while translating them into a form of Christianity that was not only truly their own, but a redemptive force for a nation whose original sin was found in their ancestors’ enslavement across the Middle Passage. Stacey L. Holman is series producer and director, and Shayla Harris and Christopher Bryson are producers/directors.

Now streaming on HBO MAX, Black Art: In the Absence of Light, from 2020 IDA Career Achievement Award honoree Sam Pollard, introduces viewers to some of the greatest Black visual artists working today. Interweaving insights and context from scholars and historians, along with interviews from a new generation of working African American curators and artists including Theaster Gates, Kerry James Marshall, Faith Ringgold, Amy Sherald and Carrie Mae Weems, the documentary is a look at the contributions of Black American artists in today’s contemporary art world.

Premiering February 22 on Smithsonian Channel, Reclaiming History: Our Native Daughters captures a recording session and tour featuring musicians Rhiannon Giddens, Leyla McCalla, Allison Russel and Amythyst Kiah, as they explore powerful, long-hidden stories of Black American women’s experience—their struggles, resistance, resilience and hopes.  Executive-produced by Lynne Robinson and Linda Goldman.