Between the World and Me, writer Ta-Nehisi Coates’ taut, searing memoir—framed as a letter to his teenage son, and born of his impassioned debates with former President Barack Obama—is a clarion call for action, and accountability. It traces Coates’ onerous upbringing in racially segregated Baltimore—an area, like much of America, rife with discrimination and overpolicing—and under the belt of his abusive father; his formative years at Howard University, and in Paris; and rise up the literary ranks.
“I’ve been wondering who might fill the intellectual void that plagued me after James Baldwin died. Clearly it is Ta-Nehisi Coates,” wrote the great Toni Morrison. “The language of Between the World and Me, like Coates’s journey, is visceral, eloquent, and beautifully redemptive. And its examination of the hazards and hopes of black male life is as profound as it is revelatory.”
On Sunday, Nov. 22, a film adaptation of Coates’ tome will premiere. Directed by Kamilah Forbes, who previously helmed a version for the stage at the Apollo Theater and Kennedy Center, it features a host of Black talent—Coates, Angela Bassett, Oprah Winfrey, Angela Davis, Tip “T.I.” Harris, Phylicia Rashad, Mahershala Ali, and many more—reading passages from Between the World and Me, as video and images of the Black struggle in America play on screen.
In an exclusive clip provided to The Daily Beast, two-time Oscar-winning actor Mahershala Ali gets emotional reciting a portion of Coates’ book.
“She was the kind of black girl who’d been told as a child that she had better be smart because her looks wouldn’t save her, and then told as a young woman that she was really pretty for a dark-skinned girl,” says Ali, tears welling in his eyes. “There was, all about her, a knowledge of cosmic injustices, the same knowledge I’d glimpsed all those years ago watching the golden-haired boys with their toy trucks and football cards, and dimly perceiving the great barrier between the world and me.”
Filming for Between the World and Me took place over the summer, as millions took to the streets protesting for Black lives in the wake of George Floyd’s killing. The team implemented strict COVID-19 protocols, including testing, mask-wearing, and maintaining social distancing, with many of the actors shot in their homes. And, despite Donald Trump—and his racist coddling of white nationalists—being voted out of office, the fight for Black lives, for equal justice and treatment, must continue unabated, for there is still so much work to be done.
“The unfortunateness of our world is that this piece is necessary before November 4, and after, regardless of what happens,” Forbes told The New York Times. “We’ll still be urgent and relevant.”
Between the World and Me premieres Sunday, Nov. 22 at 8 p.m. on HBO. It is currently available to stream on HBO Max.
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