Back to IndieWire

James Baldwin Was Born Today; No Biopic Yet, So Watch ‘Take This Hammer’

James Baldwin Was Born Today; No Biopic Yet, So Watch 'Take This Hammer'

James Arthur Baldwin was born on this day, August 2, in 1924. He would have been 88 years young, were he still alive today.

I don’t believe there has been a scripted feature film on the life of James Baldwin has there? There’ve been documentaries like The Price Of A Ticket, but no biopics I’m aware of, or if one has even been attempted.

Or have there been any feature films in which he is a character in someone else’s story. Can’t think of any either…

I remember asking a similar question last year, and a number of responses to that post said that interest in a film on the life of Baldwin, or on a specific notable period in his life, isn’t high enough to support a scripted feature film. 

Do you agree? 

I certainly wouldn’t expect some box office blockbuster, but I’d like to think that, since I’d definitely like to see one (depending on who’s involved both in front of and behind the camera, of course), I’d like to think that there are many others who feel the same way – enough to support the production of one.

It may be better suited for a cable TV network like HBO or Showtime, or even as a mini-series, spread out over 2 or 3 episodes.

Somewhere, right now, I’ll bet someone is plotting to produce something… maybe.

But while we wait for that to become a reality… a flashback. A search for James Baldwin’s name on YouTube, Vimeo or other video sharing sites, will return several clips featuring the novelist, essayist, playwright, poet, and social critic. He lives on, in both still and moving pictures, as well as in books. So you have a variety of ways to celebrate his birthday today.

Here’s my contribution: A 1963 documentary titled Take This Hammer.

The story goes… in the spring of 1963, KQED followed Baldwin, as he was driven around San Francisco, meeting with members of the local African-American community, intent on discovering “the real situation of Negroes in the city.”

As the documentary shows, and something we’ve repeatedly highlighted on this blog with respect to black cinema, the conversations we (black people) were having in 1963 on issues we faced (jobs, housing, prisons, education, police, etc) are pretty much the same conversations we are having in 2012.

What have we learned? What happens now? Will we still be having similar conversations in another 50 years?

Watch the 44-minute documentary below:

This Article is related to: Features