Novelist, essayist, playwright, poet, critic - James Baldwin was one of the most prominent and vital American literary voices of the 20th Century.

His early years as a child preacher imbued his writing with a fierceness and urgency, but also made him a fascinatingly articulate and powerful presence on screen. Celebrating one hundred years since his birth in Harlem in 1924, we’re taking a look at some of the best films about Baldwin, from documentaries to adaptations of his seminal work.

I Heard it Through the Grapevine / dir. Dick Fontaine, Pat Hartley / 1982

Originally released in 1982, I Heard it Through the Grapevine is not so much a portrait of James Baldwin as a deep immersion into his own exploration of the American South, two decades on from the start of the Civil Rights Movement.

Playing at DocHouse from Sat 16 Mar

I Am Not Your Negro / Dir. Raoul Peck / 2016

Master filmmaker Raoul Peck reimagines James Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript Remember This House with this radical and incendiary examination of race in America, connecting the narratives of past and present. The book was to be a revolutionary, personal account of the lives and successive assassinations of three of his close friends—Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. However, at the time of his death in 1987, he left behind only thirty completed pages of his manuscript.

Using Baldwin’s words, voiced by Samuel L. Jackson, Peck crafts a lyrical and forceful interrogation of what it means to be black today.

Returning to DocHouse for a screening on Sat 16 Mar

If Beale Street Could Talk / Dir. Barry Jenkins / 2018

Barry Jenkins follwed his Oscar winning Moonlight with this adaptation of Baldwin’s 1974 novel. Teen lovers Fonny and Tish are ripped apart when Fonny is wrongly imprisoned in this beautifully tender depiction of love and community in 70’s Harlem.

Watch on BBC Iplayer 

Meeting the Man: James Baldwin in Paris / Dir. Terence Dixon / 1970

Tense, combative, discursive: A meeting with James Baldwin doesn’t quite go according to plan for a group of presumptuous white filmmakers in this rarely seen, Paris-set short film. An illuminating snapshot of Baldwin’s intellectual worldview that bristles with friction and ideas.

James Baldwin: The Price of the Ticket / Dir. Karen Thorsen / 1989

Using rarely-seen archival footage from nine different countries, the film melds intimate interviews and eloquent public speeches with cinéma vérité glimpses of Baldwin and original scenes from his extraordinary funeral service in December 1987.

Watch on Kanopy