As the number of coronaviruses has increased, production for several upcoming TV shows and movies has stopped worldwide. But socially distancing measures did not deter journalist and author Ta-Nehisi Coates from reintroducing his 2015 culture-changing non-fiction book Between the world and me through a visual lens. HBO’s adaptation is deliberately debuted after the 2020 election and has a myriad of acclaimed black thespians and activists reciting parts of the book in various intimate settings. Stage manager and producer Kamilah Forbes, who adapted Between the world and me to the Apollo Theater in 201
In the last five years, HBO has made several efforts to enhance black visibility Insecure, Random acts of flyness, Lovecraft Country, and A black lady sketch show. A one-off film rather than a recurring series, Between the world and me is HBO’s latest addition to the palette. Rife with award-winning actors (Jharrel Jerome, Mahershala Ali) and those who are long delayed to an Emmy Award (This is us star Susan Kelechi Watson, Mj Rodriquez), the film centers on the black situation and the disproportionate injustices we face. As of November 10, black Americans are experiencing the highest rate of COVID-19 mortality – about three times higher than white or Asian populations.
Through this gloomy reality, Between the world and me also has captivating depictions of the black life, from its radical collage site sequence to the delicate montages of families and inner city paintings. The visuals are a nod to Coates’ West Baltimore upbringing, while the cast acts as a Greek chorus for the author’s revelation of the nation’s racist dysfunction. During Barack Obama’s two-year presidency, Coates was dissatisfied with Obama’s contradiction between giving comfort to white people through his political rhetoric, while several instances of police brutality against black people went viral. Coates was driven to warn his young son, Samori, of the social implications of being a black person in America: “This is your country, this is your world, and you must find a way to live within it all.”
Taking a signal from James Baldwin’s 1963 double essay book The fire next time, Between the world and me is as penetrating when recited as a choreopoem as it is in book form – perhaps more. While some actors in the film visibly read passages from their MacBook screens and cue cards, others memorized their segments and captured the essence of the book in a dramatized way. Between the world and me is not just a monologue between father and son anymore. It is urgent for black people to have a broad awareness of an unethical nation designed to work against our favor. Not even democracy can save us.
Between jazz numbers and spoken word styling, Between the world and me provides audio images for thousands and Gen-Z viewers to revel in, from the declarative anthem “Black” by Compton rapper Buddy to “The Bigger Picture” by Lil Baby, the most streamed protest song since George Floyd’s death. Like the film’s score, the cast of Between the world and me is multigenerational and retells the differences between black and white societies. In one segment, Angela Bassett sits in a cave and describes the dream of the white fence. When characters in Brady Bunch and 90210 were able to roam invincibly without looking over their shoulders for hidden dangers, black youth sought the same desires.
In the midst of this vision of whitewashed life, black Americans have always been on the opposite end, as explained by Vokset-ish tax Yara Shahidi and political activist Angela Y. Davis. In his youth, Coates thought of the authorized presence of Malcolm X, though history classes ritually coercive images of docile, non-violent civil rights on him. Perhaps the redundancy of these lessons was a subtle attempt to make white students feel comfortable without being exposed to the radicalism of the Black Panther Party or the 1973 blaxploitation film The Spook Who Sat By The Door. Footage of black protesters from the 1950s and 60s being beaten, slammed and arrested was often shown to Coates and fellow students. Davis and Shahidi reiterate the concerns he wrote: “Why are they? shows this for us? ”
Coates was relieved of these messages when he arrived as a student at Howard University, but he did not find his identity by receiving the student’s distinction – it was through “Mecca.” On HBCU’s campus, Watson (who received his BFA from Howard) gives a riveting talk about the enormous black student of counterculture. Unlike the many HBCUs based in historically connected states, Howard University is in the heart of Washington DC, where students are in the presence of political sharpness and revolution across the black diaspora.
Howard University is also the place where Coates found love three times, conceiving his son along with the woman who became his wife. In Coates’ words, Samori was not a birth, but a “convocation.” Oscar winner Mahershala Ali sheds a tear as he speaks of Coates’ lines of protecting a child from a flawed reality. After the initial joy of starting a family, the concern lies: the investments that black parents put into raising their children do not define whether these children are able to survive into adulthood.
In a dashcam-style sequence, Rodriquez repeats the terror at a traffic stop when Coates was once pulled over by a Prince George County police officer shortly before his son was born. While Rodriquez sits in the light of fluorescent police cruiser lights, says Kendrick Sampson from Insecure shares the passage in a less passionate reading sitting in a separate car a day. The frustration of systemic oppression swells through Between the world and me, from the wrongful murder of Coates ‘friend Prince Jones by PG County police in late 2000 to Coates’ inability to empathize when the 9/11 terrorist attacks shook New York City. As he watched the Twin Towers fall into ruin, Coates recalled that Manhattan’s financial district was once a prime location for the slave trade in the 18th century.
Probably the most gripping moment in Between the world and me held between Tony-nominated actress Michelle Wilson and The thread‘s Wendell Pierce. Both capture the aggression that any black parent would feel when they see their child being thrown to the ground by a stranger, one who considers a black child worthless for being in the way. The incident that Coates describes was a Karen moment before “Karen” became a meme. The white woman who dehumanized Samori also threatened Coates with “I could get you arrested” – an all too common pompous threat used to prevent black people from getting out of the queue.
Black people in America can find any fault in behavior are animals, as the painter Molly Crabapple and Oprah Winfrey address in a segment about the way black bodies sacrificed America. Crabapple represents cannibalism in American industries and the prison system, paintings of black people, rivers, and buried skulls in blood-red paint.
While those who voted for President-elect Joe Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris (also a Howard alumna) are excited about their victory, Between the world and me reveals that having the first vice president of color has not changed inequality at the heart of America. The film gives viewers a much-needed dose of the reality that black Americans have had since we were involuntarily brought here in the 1600s. Halfway through, Between the world and me, reveals Samori’s namesake, the West African military strategist Samori Ture. Although Ture was killed in captivity, the fight was bigger than him. As Between the world and me tells it, black Americans still endure that struggle, but they have the strength to survive it.
Between the world and me debuts on HBO and HBO Max at. 20 ET on 21 November.