Kamilah Forbes is set to direct, with Coates and Susan Kelechi Watson executive producing, and Roger Ross Williams producing. The network will make a charitable donation to Howard University and the Apollo Theater.
“Ta-Nehisi’s book is a modern literary classic that provides an essential message for our times,” said Casey Bloys, president, HBO programming. “We are tremendously proud to bring this incredibly important event to our audiences.”
Added Coates: “I’ve been working with Kamilah for almost as long as I’ve been a writer. I can think of no one better to put ‘Between the World and Me’ on screen and no better home for it than HBO.”
Coates first published “Between the World and Me,” an exploration into Black Americans’ fraught history within the country and questions including what it means to live in a Black body, in 2015. It went on to become a No. 1 New York Times bestseller, win the National Book Award and become a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize. The book is written in the style of a letter to Coates’ teenage son, telling stories of Coates’ experiences growing up in Baltimore’s inner city, his growing fear of daily violence against the Black community and his notion that the structure of American society supports white supremacy.
“Through ‘Between the World and Me’ we intend to create a space of communion where Black people can metabolize our grief, celebrate our joys and continue to amplify the current discourse regarding race and culture in our country and around the world,” said Watson, who previously participated in the Apollo Theater and Kennedy Center adaptations. “Ta-Nehisi’s words lend themselves to an experience that is shared by so many of us. I’m thrilled to work with HBO and these brilliant minds on a special that is both timely and urgent.”
The book was first adapted for the stage in 2018, being performed at the Apollo Theater, where Forbes serves as executive producer, as well as at the Kennedy Center and in Atlanta. Coates and Forbes have been longtime friends after meeting at Howard University, and Coates wrote Forbes into the book as “Aunt Kamilah.”
“As people across our country continue to speak out about violent, systemic racism and the urgent need for tangible change, Ta-Nehisi’s words resonate as strongly today as they did five years ago,” said Forbes. “I’m excited to collaborate again with both Ta-Nehisi and HBO on this important special event, ensuring that the powerful voices in this work, and cry for justice from the Black community, continues to reach a broader audience.”
This HBO special will feature some of the same elements of the stage production, including readings from the book. It will also incorporate documentary footage from the actors’ home lives, archival footage and animation.
“Ta-Nehisi Coates’ ‘Between the World and Me’ is a seminal piece of literature that has pushed crucial conversations around our country and racism to the forefront of our cultural conversation,” said Williams. “Having witnessed Ta-Nehisi and Kamilah stage ‘Between the World and Me,’ I am thrilled to be a part of bringing this powerful work and its message to HBO and an even wider audience.”
The special will be produced by Wiliams’ company, One Story Up, taking into consideration health and safety guidelines due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Coates is represented by UTA, Gloria Loomis of the Watkins Loomis Agency, and Del, Shaw, Moonves, Tanaka, Finkelstein & Lezcano. Forbes is represented by WME and Lisa E. Davis of Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz PC. Watson is represented by United Talent Agency, Authentic Talent and Literary Management, and Jackoway Tyerman Wertheimer Austen Mandelbaum Morris & Klein. Williams is represented by WME and Granderson Des Rochers