Howard University or ‘The Mecca’ as us Bison call it is having a year like non other. We have watched one graduate after another make headlines over the decades – Debbie Allen, Phylicia Rashad, Anthony Anderson, Taraji P. Henson, Lynn Whitfield, Chadwick Boseman, Isaiah Washington, Between Vice-President Elect Kamala Harris, Simone Missick, Traci Thoms, etc. But 2020 belongs to Chadwick Boseman (Da 5 Bloods and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom) and Ta-Nehisi Coates‘ HBO debut of his acclaimed book adapted for the screen through dramatized monologues serving as tribute from one Howard student to another. Coates penned his novel after Prince Jones was chased through three states and shot dead in Virginia.
Many may think the conversation over Black Lives Matter is new, but in fact it’s one that has been prevalent in our community for decades. Going back to the greed and exploitation of Black people over sugar, cotton, tobacco and gold, this film breaks it down to basics reminding the world that this system in America made us into a race – yet we were resilient enough to make ourselves into a people.
One powerful monologue after another delivered by Phylicia Rashad, Whoopi Goldberg, Susan Kelechi-Watson, Oprah Winfrey, Joe Morton, Angela Davis, Ledisi and more invokes a visceral reaction one’s emotions may not be ready for. Breaking into the ugly cry won’t be uncommon for those brave enough to screen this necessary piece of cinema during a time of global racial reckoning.
One is reminded that being born black in America already places us in the unique, yet unfortunate position of having a body the system sees as breakable. A system that believes you can destroy us and still receive pensions. All of this is common and old for Black people, in addition, to being emotionally and physically exhausting. For 20 years, society has stood by watching one Black and Brown body after another be mistreated, disrespected and disenfranchised. It is with recent protests and 2020 Presidential results that we are slowly taking back our power of simply existing as human.
Cinematographer Bradford Young creates cinematic cornucopia of imagery which enhances the storytelling. One story that shook me to my core was about a white woman pushing Coates’ kid while a nearby white man threatened to have him arrested. Realizing that our misjudgments and errors always have a heftier price tag, Ta-Nehisi made a conscious decision to not allow his son watch him get dragged off his handcuffs for no other reason than standing up for his kid and as a father.
As much as this film makes society take a good hard look at their racist attitudes, it also serves as a love letter to Howard University and how this institution shaped a young Black mans professional life, societal norms, attitudes all while finding the love of his life. Howard University awoke and educated while making every student painfully aware we would always have to be a little brighter and better for no other reason than the color of our skin…a sentiment often echoed within every Black and Brown household.
For those white people seeking clarity on how helping them understand how I felt someone was being racist, those wanting me to educate them on being Black or explain to them how I was feeling in the midst of the madness – Between The World and Me will tell you everything you need to know and then some. Directed by Kamilah Forbes and Produced by Howard Alum Susan Kelechi Watson along with Geoff Martz and Alisa Payne, Between The World and Me is streaming on HBO.