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Soul Man

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Steve Miner
Produced by Donna Smith
Steve Tisch
Written by Carol Black
Starring C. Thomas Howell
Rae Dawn Chong
Arye Gross
James Earl Jones
Leslie Nielsen
Cinematography Jeff Jur
Editing by Dave Finfe
Distributed by New World Pictures
Release date(s) 24 October 1986
Running time 104 Minutes
Country United States
Language English

Soul Man is a comedy film made in 1986 about a man who undergoes racial transformation with pills to qualify for an African-American-only scholarship at Harvard Law School. It stars C. Thomas Howell, Rae Dawn Chong, Arye Gross, James Earl Jones, Leslie Nielsen, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

The title refers to the Sam and Dave song "Soul Man".



The movie's protagonist is Mark Watson (Howell), the single pampered son from a rich family who is about to attend Harvard Law School along with his best friend Gordon (Gross). However, all of a sudden 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 blacks only. So he decides to cheat: by using tanning pills in a larger dose than prescribed to appear as an African-American, he sets out for Harvard, naively believing that nowadays 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 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 little son George while studying. Slowly, Mark begins to regret his deed, and after a totally chaotic day - in which Sarah, his parents (who are not aware of his double life) and his ethnophilic co-student Whitney, who is also his landlord's daughter (Melora Hardin), drop in for surprise visits at the same time - he drops the charade and openly reveals himself to be white.

The film ends with Mark declaring to his professor (Jones) that he wishes to pay back the scholarship and do charity work to make amends for his act of fraud, and Sarah decides to give him another chance.


In 1986 when the film was released it caused a big stir up among the African-American community because throughout most of the film C. Thomas Howell is in blackface make up.[1]


Defunct mathcore band Botch has a track named "C. Thomas Howell as the 'Soul Man'" on their final release, We Are the Romans.


  1. ^ Voland, John. "NAACP, Black Students Protest Film `Soul Man'" Los Angeles Times October 29, 1986.

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