From Between the World and Me (2020), dir. Kamilah Forbes (image courtesy HBO)

Ta-Nehisi Coates’s 2015 memoir/essay/correspondence to his son Between the World and Me exerted a huge influence over how discussions of race are now framed in the United States. He helped elucidate for a mass audience a vocabulary centered around understanding people as bodies, and particularly the reflexive violence that institutions bring against Black bodies. In 2018, the Apollo Theater adapted the book as a stage show. It expresses Coates’s words through a multitude of actors, turning a singular perspective into a chorus of voices.

The Apollo’s executive director, Kamilah Forbes, has now adapted the show as a special for HBO. In the transition from page to stage to screen, Coates’s thoughts undergo yet another evolution, with the chorus no dispersed throughout time and space, featuring not just the actors but also relevant historical footage spliced in. The cast has an all-star roster that includes Angela Davis, Oprah Winfrey, Mahershala Ali, Courtney B. Vance, Joe Morton, Angela Bassett, and many more. In the years since the book’s initial publication, a rising tide of protest for Black lives and rights has made Coates’s ideas even more pressing, and this special seeks to convey that urgency.

YouTube video

Between the World and Me premieres on HBO November 21 and will then be available to stream via HBO MAX.

Dan Schindel is a freelance writer and copy editor living in Brooklyn, and a former associate editor at Hyperallergic. His portfolio and links are here.