(CNN) Haunting and poetic, “Between the World and Me” translates Ta-Nehisi Coates' book and the subsequent stage presentation into an HBO special that loses none of its power, a feat made all the more remarkable by its production amid the coronavirus outbreak. Weaving in news footage with stars reading Coates' words, this version of the writer’s reflections to his 15-year-old son will likely be played and replayed for years to come.
Directed by Kamilah Forbes – who brought Coates' book to the Apollo Theater – the special incorporates news footage old and new, from Muhammad Ali speaking to dash-cam video of police abusing African-American drivers. While Coates' book is the defining voice, the exceptions are notable, including Chadwick Boseman’s commencement speech at Howard University, and Breonna Taylor’s mother, in an audio clip, discussing how she learned of her daughter’s death
“I’m telling you this in your fifteenth year,” the narrative begins, delivered by a who’s who of Black celebrities, including Mahershala Ali, Angela Bassett, Joe Morton, Wendell Pierce, Yara Shahidi, Courtney B. Vance, Susan Kelechi Watson (also one of the producers) and Oprah Winfrey.
Coates speaks of the “cosmic injustice” of the Black experience, and tells his child, “You do not have the privilege of living in ignorance” – a warning that possess additional clout with Oprah presenting it.
Oprah Winfrey in the HBO special ‘Between the World and Me.’
Connecting the past to the present, Coates talks about a Howard student he knew who was killed by the police – drawing a line through the long and painful history that has built to the Black Lives Matter movement.