Taglines: He didn’t give up. He got down.
Mark doesn’t expect any problems in going to college: he and his friend have reserved places in Harvard and his parents have the money to pay for his education there. But suddenly his father’s neurotic psychiatrist advises him to go on vacation in Hawaii instead of spending more money on his son.
Since Mark wants to keep his lifestyle, including a fancy car and a flat shared with his friend, he seeks financial support. The only foundation which still accepts applications is for blacks only — no problem, with lots of bronzing pills and “soul in his voice” he sets out to Harvard. Soon he has to realize that being black will cause some people to handle him differently.
Soul Man is a 1986 American comedy film about a white man who temporarily darkens his skin, in order to pretend to be black and qualify for a black-only scholarship at Harvard Law School. The movie was directed by Steve Miner and stars C. Thomas Howell, Rae Dawn Chong, Arye Gross, James Earl Jones, Leslie Nielsen, James B. Sikking, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. The title refers to the Sam and Dave song “Soul Man”. The original soundtrack includes a version performed by Sam Moore and Lou Reed.
About the Story
The movie’s protagonist, Mark Watson (C. Thomas Howell), is the pampered son from a rich family who is about to attend Harvard Law School along with his best friend Gordon (Arye Gross). Unfortunately, his father’s neurotic psychiatrist talks his patient into having more fun for himself instead of spending money on his son.
Faced with the horrifying prospect of having to pay for law school by himself, Mark decides to take up a scholarship, but the only suitable one is for African-Americans only. He decides to cheat by using tanning pills in a larger dose than prescribed to appear as an African-American. Watson then sets out for Harvard, naïvely believing that blacks have no problems at all in American society.
However, once immersed in a black student’s life, Mark finds that people are less lenient than he imagined and more prone to see him as a black person instead of a fellow student. He meets a young African-American student named Sarah Walker (Chong), whom he first only flirts with; gradually, however, he genuinely falls in love with her. As it turns out, she was the original candidate for the scholarship which he had usurped, and now she has to work hard as a waitress to support herself and her son George while studying.
Slowly, Mark begins to regret his deed, and after a chaotic day—in which Sarah, his parents (who are not aware of his double life) and his classmate Whitney (Melora Hardin), who is also his landlord’s daughter, make surprise visits at the same time—he drops the charade and openly reveals himself to be white.
Soul Man (1986)
Directed by: Steve Miner
Starring: C. Thomas Howell, Rae Dawn Chong, Arye Gross, James Earl Jones, Melora Hardin, Leslie Nielsen, Ann Walker, James Sikking, Julia Louis-Dreyfus
Screenplay by: Carol Black
Production Design by: Gregg Fonseca
Cinematography by: Jeff Jur
Film Editing by: David Finfer
Costume Design by: Sharon Simonaire
Set Decoration by: Dorree Cooper
Art Direction by: Don Diers, John Krenz Reinhart Jr.
Music by: Tom Scott
Distributed by: New World Pictures
Release Date: October 24, 1986