"Between the World and Me" transforms a father's letter to his son into a chorus for a people

Between the world and me
Angela Bassett on "Between the World and Me" HBO
This article originally appeared here on Salon.com
At the top of the credits for "Between the World and Me" are three pillars of names that roll into the sky, a memory dedicated to black men and women who were murdered in government-sanctioned violence or white fear. They should be noticed and slip by too quickly. What is striking, however, is how many there are and how relatively few most citizens will recognize.
The work of Ta-Nehisi Coates marks its place in time in his declaration of intent by being a letter to his son that was formed in memoirs. "I'll write to you when you are 15," he says, marking the moment with names as reasons. That would be 2014, a year before the book was published, the year "Eric Garner was suffocated for selling cigarettes"; "Renisha McBride was shot for seeking help, John Crawford was shot for browsing a department store."
There are other names: Tamir Rice. Marlene Pinnock. Coates later guides his son and the reader through the life of his Howard University classmate Prince Howard, another man who was shot down by police. Through his story and Coates' words, the audience understands that these are lives, not just names. These are flames of potential stolen from their communities.
If Kamilah Forbes' filmed adaptation of "Between the World and Me" has a personalized intensity, you attribute it to a shared sense of knowledge among the participants. The director, who is executive producer at the Apollo Theater, originally adapted Between the World and Me for limited stage engagements in 2018 at the Apollo.
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She and the film's executive director Susan Kelechi Watson are Coates' Howard coworkers and friends. In the book he calls her "Aunt Kamilah".
This knowledge expands the book's single voice to include many, turning a father to son message into a series of conversations between mothers and daughters, sisters and brothers, a diasporic chorus of monologues, music and voice.
When "Between the World and Me" hit bookshelves in 2015, it was hailed as work done to hit America in the heart. Reading became a virtuous sign among whites who endeavored to announce their vigilance. Perhaps it goes without saying that most blacks take it differently in that it is a story we know and live and recognize as an oral story put on paper (again inspired by James Baldwin's "The Fire Next Time") .
Coates 'writing brings clarity to his poetry, and in just under an hour and 20 minutes, Forbes' film acknowledges the book's relative economy, adding sharpness to each frame, complemented by Bradford Young's captivating cinematography. Young's experience in illuminating black skin transforms Coates' prose, adapted by David Teague, into a love letter, which is reproduced in moving images and poetry. All of this connects in a way with the larger, non-white audience that is coming, and just as authentically yet different from the people it is speaking for and for.
And Forbes has put together a slew of voices, some of which are more ingrained than others. Production took place in August 2020 amid heated protests against racial justice in cities across the country, and the filming of the actors in their seemingly personal sanctuaries adds extra intimacy to an engaging conversation.
Knowing most of the cast, including Wendell Pierce, Joe Morton, Kendrick Sampson, and Oprah (of course), is likely to help the wider audience absorb the massive substance contained in what these messengers are saying. Forbes cleverly uses the contrasts between men and women, as well as youth and wisdom, in several places to convey the sadness that Coates' message will always apply regardless of generation.
I was particularly moved by a section that alternates between "black" star Yara Shahidi and activist Angela Davis and words from the same passage about Coates' impression of how the civil rights movement is taught in schools and his longstanding impression that it is insidious is reading programs that tell black children that their role in engaging in violence is to respond with peaceful resistance.
A job like this is to strike a balance between recognizing the ferocity inflicted on black bodies without demonstrating the black pain and maintaining the elegance and excellence of a people without glossing over the role played by struggle plays in this win. Forbes pays great attention to and necessarily recognizes how trials through suffering affect blacks' experience. It may be the only major film in recent times to include photos of Emmett Till's funeral who neglect to show his mutilated body, in line with the larger point that it is about the value and struggle of life as a black person in America goes.
Here too the solemnity is evident. Forbes is an opportunity to bask in Watson's energetic monologue on the awareness and cultural variation Howard brought to his students in the "Mecca" chapter.
Another highlight is Mahershala Ali, who becomes the voice of Coates' love experience, an excerpt as moving and graceful as Phylicia Rashad's embodiment of the quiet dignity of a bereaved as she speaks Coates' conversation with Jones' mother, Dr. Mabel, chasing Jones. There is a line in the film and the book that tells you everything about her: "She was what people once called 'a lady'," they say, and without saying many lines, Rashad exudes his meaning in theirs Posture and a face that speaks of long-distance presence. The simplicity in such scenes stays with you.
It also hooks up to the electricity generated by an actor's close association with the text. Angela Bassett's genuine acuity when it comes to talking about the inaccessibility of the white American dream in its fullness comes from a real and felt place and you will feel it, too.
She speaks of the dream of feeling the security and luxury that reign on Sundays in pot roasts and in separate houses in suburbs, as a backdrop for scenes from legendary TV series and films - the tree-lined landscapes of "The Wonder Years". "The carefree wealth and glamor of" 90210 "and" Ahnungslos ", the alleged Americana of" The Brady Bunch ", all pictures were advertised as usual.
Similarly, Jharrel Jerome is not so much reciting the dialogue as speaking from experience - perhaps not his own, but one he knows. This is either a great act or a spiritual exhumation of a truth that lies in its bones. When Mj Rodriguez and Janet Mock recite Coates' passage about the intense fear and anger of being run over by a police officer for no apparent reason, it is as testimony that applies to these women of similar yet transgender people, laden with additional ones Anxiety.
"Between the World and Me" connects the years 2015 to 2020 with footage of the recent protests, the now famous Amy Cooper video and the ongoing outrage over the murder of Breonna Taylor. But it refuses to play in the slight tendency to become a sloganeer. While Taylor's mother's radio plays tell about the veils that keep her from finding out what happened to her daughter when cops killed her in her own bed, Forbes records their performers' facial expressions as they listen and testify in sadness and anger lay down.
A line from Coates' book, included in the film, says: "Knowing that the dream would continue after going to war with the known world, I was sad for my country. But especially at that moment, I was sad to you."
This refers to the dissonance between the bloody defense of the American dream as whites accept and the common struggle that is the experience of black Americans. Forbes' film has this empowering truth as its backbone and praises blackness as a full experience of mood, taste, music and vision. The result is grandly celebratory and essentially American.
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"Between the World and Me" premiered Saturday, November 21st at 8pm on HBO and streams on HBO max.
In this article
Angela Bassett
Ta-Nehisi Coates
Kamilah Forbes

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