Meeting the Man: James Baldwin in Paris

Meeting the Man: James Baldwin in Paris

He has a life to lose and you don’t!”

“I’m writing for people, baby.”

Everyone you’re looking at is also you!”

How does one rate a film that amounts to both a narrow lens on a black genius and revelatory view on white discomfort with blackness? James Baldwin remains a transfixing, extremely talented legend that black artists and writers like myself keep tripping on the shadow of. White anger and white ignorance can’t hide from the light of Baldwin’s wry smile, beaming and cutting eyes. In conversations documented between Baldwin and young black folks who cut their teeth, so to speak, on his writing — “I know that I love you” — I couldn’t help but wonder how different the conversations would play out with black people on the other side of the lens. Although the tension with the white filmmakers is curious, revealing, frustrating.

I thought it was interesting that Baldwin argued slyly that fiction (“ a play or a novel”) is more dangerous than essays through the vision of his own career in a conversation that shows three clashing patterns — beige and green plaid of sorts on Baldwin, verdant couch behind him freckled with red and yellow flowers, some ugly ass brown dominated swooning pattern on the wall. I actually agree. (And I’m saying that as a dedicated essayist and critic!) I think fiction has a power to shape us and challenge in ways nonfiction doesn’t always (rarely?) achieves. I can’t help but be electrified by Baldwin’s thinking!