Academy Award-Nominated Film is an Insightful Essay on Race Relations in America

Alan Suemori
Commentary
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald

In 1979, the great American writer James Baldwin sent a short letter to his literary agent Jay Acton, outlining an ambitious project that would require the author to undertake a long-delayed journey back into his anguished past. Baldwin, who was at the nadir of a brilliant literary career at the time, intended to write a book about three of his friends: Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. — all of whom had been assassinated before they had reached the age of 40. It was his hope that by exploring their lives and deaths, side-by-side, he would begin to understand more clearly the Gordian knot of race relations in America. Baldwin would pass away eight years later at the age of 63 from stomach cancer and finish only 30 pages of the book that had long haunted him.

Baldwin’s unfinished elegy has always been one of literary America’s chimeras, along with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Last Tycoon” and Ernest Hemingway’s “The Garden of Eden” — unkept promises that tease us with what might have been if their authors had lived long enough to fulfill their possibilities.

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