First published in 2015, Between The World And Me was written as a letter to Coates’ teenage son, and recounts the author’s experiences growing up in Baltimore’s inner city and his growing fear of daily violence against the Black community. The narrative explores Coates’ bold notion that American society structurally supports white supremacy.
Based on the 2018 adaptation and staging of the book at the Apollo Theater, the HBO Special combines elements of the Apollo’s production, including powerful readings from Coates’ book, and incorporates documentary footage from the actors’ home life, archival footage, and animation.
Between The World And Me is directed by award-winning director and Apollo Theater Executive Producer Kamilah Forbes, who also serves as an executive producer alongside Coates and Susan Kelechi Watson. Roger Ross Williams and his production company One Story Up produced.
Instead of staging the show in a shuttered theater, Kamilah Forbes took it on the road beginning in August. Actors are seated in dozens of locations, from their homes, to their cars, to their backyards. They shout lines from the streets of Baltimore and the campus of Howard University. Their performances are peppered with historical moments, from Malcom X speeches to the late Chadwick Boseman (who attended Howard at the same time as Coates) addressing Howard’s graduating class of 2018.
Coates’ personal story is thus universalized. Even though the viewer is aware these are stories written by one man, who lived one very singular life, they start to feel shared. Mahershala Ali silently cries as he talks about the experience of falling in love and having a child. Phylicia Rashad takes on a monologue about the death of one of Coates’ college friends, murdered by police. Though these are Coates’ words, from her mouth they take on the emotional tenor of a mother losing her son. Seated in the comfort of her own home, we have a front row seat to grief. Rashad is every Black mother who’s ever woken up to learn her son has been gunned down. (READ MORE)
I sat to watch the production two nights ago and could not leave the living room or the space designated for watching tv in the living room. I wanted to make tea but I was riveted to my seat. I knew I could pause the film but somehow that did not elicit a reaction from me to do so. As a spoken word artist myself I was tremendously inspired. I was initially drawn to the title on HBO as I am familiar with both the the book and the writer Ta-Nehisi Coates. I am also familiar with the work and world of Kamilah Forbes. Nothing and I mean nothing prepared me for the immense bigness of what I was watching. The film enveloped me in power and creativity beyond my imagination. I absolutely loved every second of this piece of work. Bravo to all involved!