James Baldwin was a vocal critic of Hollywood, but he was also a cinephile, and his critique of film was not so much of the medium itself, but of the uses to which it was put. Baldwin saw in film the chance to transform both politics and art—if only film could be transformed itself. This essay blends readings of archival materials, literature, film, and print culture to examine three distinct modes in Baldwin’s ongoing quest to revolutionize film. First, I argue, literature served as a key site to practice being a filmmaker, as Baldwin adapted cinematic grammars in his fiction and frequently penned scenes of filmgoing in which he could, in effect, direct his own movies. Secondly, I show that starting in the 1960s, Baldwin took a more direct route to making movies, as he composed screenplays, formed several production companies, and attempted to work in both Hollywood and the independent film scene in Europe. Finally, I explore how Baldwin sought to change cinema as a performer himself, in particular during his collaboration on Dick Fontaine and Pat Hartley’s documentary I Heard It Through the Grapevine (1982). This little-known film follows Baldwin as he revisits key sites from the civil rights movement and reconnects with activist friends as he endeavors to construct a revisionist history of race in America and to develop a media practice capable of honoring Black communities.
This article provides an introduction to this special section of James Baldwin Review 7 devoted to Baldwin and film. Jackson considers Baldwin’s distinct approach to film criticism by pairing him with James Agee, another writer who wrote fiction as well as nonfiction in several genres, and who produced a large body of film criticism, especially during the 1940s. While Agee, a white southerner born almost a generation before Baldwin, might seem an unlikely figure to place alongside Baldwin, the two shared a great deal in terms of temperament and vision, and their film writings reveal a great deal of consensus in their diagnoses of American pathologies. Another important context for Baldwin’s complex relationship to film is television, which became a dominant media form during the 1950s and exerted a great influence upon both the mainstream reception of the civil rights movement and Baldwin’s reception as a public intellectual from the early 1960s to the end of his life. Finally, the introduction briefly discusses the articles that constitute this special section.
In The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin argues that the American dream is far from being a reality in part because there is much Americans do not wish to know about themselves. Given the current political climate in the United States, this idea seems just as timely as it did in the 1960s. Baldwin’s politics and thinking about race and religion are informed by an optimistic belief in the human capacity to love and change for the better, in contrast with Ta-Nehisi Coates, the heir apparent to Baldwin’s legacy. Considering current events, it seems particularly useful to turn back to The Fire Next Time. Not only does Baldwin provide a foundation for understanding racism in the United States, but more importantly, he provides some much-needed hope and guidance for the future. Baldwin discusses democracy as an act that must be realized, in part by coming to a greater understanding of race and religion as performative acts that have political consequences for all Americans. In this article, I examine the influence of pragmatism on Baldwin’s understanding of race and religion. By encouraging readers to acknowledge race and religion as political constructs, Baldwin highlights the inseparability of theory and practice that is a hallmark of both pragmatism and the realization of a democratic society. Furthermore, I argue that Baldwin’s politics provide a more useful framework than Coates’s for this particular historical moment because of Baldwin’s emphasis on change and evolving democracy.
James Baldwin criticism from 2001 through 2010 is marked by an increased appreciation for Baldwin’s entire oeuvre including his writing after the mid 1960s. The question of his artistic decline remains debated, but more scholars find a greater consistency and power in Baldwin’s later work than previous scholars had found. A group of dedicated Baldwin scholars emerged during this period and have continued to host regular international conferences. The application of new and diverse critical lenses—including cultural studies, political theory, religious studies, and black queer theory—contributed to more complex readings of Baldwin’s texts. Historical and legal approaches re-assessed Baldwin’s relationship to the Civil Rights and Black Power movements and new material emerged on Baldwin’s decade in Turkey. Some historical perspective gave many critics a more nuanced approach to the old “art” vs. “politics” debate as it surfaced in Baldwin’s initial reception, many now finding Baldwin’s “angry” work to be more “relevant” than “out of touch” as it was thought of during his lifetime. In the first decade of the new millennium, three books of new primary source material, a new biography, four books of literary criticism, three edited collections of critical essays, two special issues of journals and numerous book chapters and articles were published, marking a significant increase not only in the quantity, but the quality of Baldwin criticism.
I Am Not Your Negro (2016) takes its direction from the notes for a book entitled “Remember this House” that James Baldwin left unfinished, a book about his three friends—Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr.— their murders, and their intertwining legacies. The film examines the prophetic shadow Baldwin’s work casts on twentieth- and twenty-first-century American politics and culture. Peck compiles archival material from Baldwin’s interviews on The Dick Cavett Show, his 1965 Cambridge lecture, and a series of banal images indexing the American dream. Juxtaposed against this mythology is footage of Dorothy Counts walking to school, the assassination of black leaders and activists, KKK rallies, and the different formations of the contemporary carceral state. Our conversation examines Peck’s role as a filmmaker and his relationship with the Baldwin estate. Additionally, we discussed a series of aesthetic choices he fought to include in the film’s final cut, directing Samuel L. Jackson as the voice for the film, the similarities and shifts he wanted to document in American culture since the 1960s, and some of the criticism he has received for not emphasizing more Baldwin’s sexuality.
This is the first English-language publication of an interview with James Baldwin conducted by the German writer, editor, and journalist Fritz J. Raddatz in 1978 at Baldwin’s house in St. Paul-de-Vence. In the same year, it was published in German in the weekly newspaper Die Zeit, as well as in a book of Raddatz’s conversations with international writers, and—in Italian translation—in the newspaper La Repubblica. The interview covers various topics characteristic of Baldwin’s interests at the time—among them his thoughts about Jimmy Carter’s presidency, his reasons for planning to return to the United States, his disillusionment after the series of murders of black civil rights activists in the 1960s and 1970s, and the role of love and sexuality in his literary writings. A special emphasis lies on the discussion of possible parallels between Nazi Germany and U.S. racism, with Baldwin most prominently likening the whole city of New York to a concentration camp. Due to copyright reasons, this reprint is based on an English translation of the edited version published in German. A one-hour tape recording of the original English conversation between Raddatz and Baldwin is accessible at the German literary archive in Marbach.
This article traces how the queer Black writer James Baldwin’s transnational palate and experiences influenced the ways he wrote about Black domestic spaces in the late twentieth century. In the 1960s and 1970s, while Black feminist cooks and writers like Edna Lewis, Jessica B. Harris, and Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor developed new theories of soul food in relation to the Black American community and broader American cuisine, Baldwin incorporated these philosophies and transnational tastes into his lifestyle and works. He traveled and worked around Europe, settling in places like Paris, Istanbul, and Saint-Paul de Vence for years at a time. In Saint-Paul de Vence, where he spent his last years, he set up his own welcome table, at which he hosted internationally renowned guests and shared his love of cuisine. Inevitably, Baldwin’s passion for cooking and hosting meals became a large, though scholarly neglected, component of his novels and essays. In his novels Another Country, which he finished in Istanbul and published in 1962, and Just Above My Head, which he finished in Saint-Paul de Vence and published in 1979, Baldwin’s depictions of food and Black kitchens take a queer turn. Instead of lingering on traditional Black family structures, these texts specifically present new formulations of intimate home life and reimagine relationships between food, kitchens, race, and sex in the late twentieth century.
How Indigenous Australian history has been portrayed and who has been empowered to define it is a complex and controversial subject in contemporary Australian society. This article critically examines these issues through two Indigenous Australian films: Nice Coloured Girls (1987) and The Sapphires (2012). These two films contrast in style, theme and purpose, but each reclaims Indigenous history on its own terms. Nice Coloured Girls offers a highly fragmented and experimental history reclaiming Indigenous female agency through the appropriation of the colonial archive. The Sapphires eschews such experimentation. It instead celebrates Indigenous socio-political links with African American culture, ‘Black is beautiful’, and the American Civil Rights movements of the 1960s. Crucially, both these films challenge notions of a singular and tragic history for Indigenous Australia. Placing the films within their wider cultural contexts, this article highlights the diversity of Indigenous Australian cinematic expression and the varied ways in which history can be reclaimed on film. However, it also shows that the content, form and accessibility of both works are inextricably linked to the industry concerns and material circumstances of the day. This is a crucial and overlooked aspect of film analysis and has implications for a more nuanced appreciation of Indigenous film as a cultural archive.
Heerten, 2018 ; Omaka, 2016 ]. The second strand to this narrative is that Biafra was a significant moment for the creation of the modern non-governmental organisation system. The period from around the late 1960s to the mid 1980s – from Biafra to Live Aid, if you like – brought about a transformation in scale and purpose of non-governmental aid. To put this in very simple terms, the number of NGOs increased considerably around the turn of the 1960s and the early 1970s, the
city of Heiden, Switzerland, where citizens commissioned a monument to Henry Dunant. 1 In Castiglione, Italy, meanwhile, local dignitaries revived the idea for a museum to commemorate Dunant’s relief activities within the city’s streets a hundred years before. Castiglione’s International Red Cross Museum opened in June 1959 and established itself as the central Red Cross museum in Europe through the 1960s and 1970s. The museum’s approach to display and