HBO, Ta-Nehisi Coates team up for book adaptation special on race in America

"Between the World and Me" author Ta-Nehisi Coates
“Between the World and Me” author Ta-Nehisi Coates.
(The Washington Post / Getty Images)

Ta-Nehisi Coates’ award-winning book and stage show “Between the World and Me” is getting an HBO special that will air this fall.

The influential book about race in America, written as an intimate letter between Coates and his teenage son, was originally adapted and staged by the Apollo Theater in 2018. The HBO special will combine elements of that production, including readings from Coates’ book, documentary footage, archival footage and animation, HBO said Thursday.

The special will again be directed by Apollo Theater executive producer Kamilah Forbes, who appears in the work as Aunt Kamilah and who adapted the book for the stage show. Coates and actress Susan Kelechi Watson (“This Is Us”) will produce the special along with filmmaker Roger Ross Williams under COVID-19 guidelines.


“I’ve been working with Kamilah for almost as long as I’ve been a writer,” Coates said in a statement. “I can think of no one better to put ‘Between the World and Me’ on screen and no better home for it than HBO.”

“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,” added 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 the cry for justice from the Black community continue to reach a broader audience.”

Coates was a national correspondent for the Atlantic and became well known for his award-winning 2014 cover story “The Case for Reparations.” “Between the World and Me” recounts his upbringing in Baltimore and his fear of violence against the Black community. The book’s narrative details how American society supports white supremacy. It was rushed to print in 2015 in the wake of the church massacre in Charleston, S.C., the multiple fatal shootings of Black men by police that year and the founding of the Black Lives Matter movement.

“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 participated in the staged reading of the book at the Apollo and at Kennedy Center.

“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,” she added.

Coates received a glowing endorsement from the late Toni Morrison for “Between the World and Me” that was published on the book’s front cover. His other works — “The Beautiful Struggle,” “We Were Eight Years in Power” and “The Water Dancer” — also explore themes of race in America.

HBO will donate money to the Apollo Theater and Howard University, the alma mater of Coates, Forbes and Watson.

The special will be available on HBO and to stream on HBO Max.

Memoirs by Kiese Laymon and John Edgar Wideman; essays by Darryl Pinckney and Mikki Kendall; masterpieces from Michelle Alexander and Claudia Rankine.

June 4, 2020