Disguised as a selection of essays about movies, Baldwin’s The Devil Finds Work is a dizzyingly heady consideration of America and American values, because of course it is, because it’s James Baldwin we’re talking about here. Movies simply serve as a prism through which Baldwin’s erudition and moral vision can find expression. This is biography, this is an examination of societal norms and morae, and at its heart this is an examination of race and the roles of artists like Paul Robeson or Sidney Portier played (or were allowed to play) in the making of this art form. -Matt, Los Angeles
Baldwin’s personal reflections on movies gathered here in a book-length essay are also a probing appraisal of American racial politics. Offering an incisive look at racism in American movies and a vision of America’s self-delusions and deceptions, Baldwin challenges the underlying assumptions in such films as In the Heat of the Night, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, and The Exorcist. Here are our loves and hates, biases and cruelties, fears and ignorance reflected by the films that have entertained us and shaped our consciousness. And here too is the stunning prose of a writer whose passion never diminished his struggle for equality, justice, and social change.
About the Author
James Baldwin (1924–1987) was a novelist, essayist, playwright, poet, and social critic. His first novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain, appeared in 1953 to excellent reviews, and his essay collections Notes of a Native Son and The Fire Next Time were bestsellers that made him an influential figure in the growing civil rights movement. Baldwin spent much of his life in France, where he moved to escape the racism and homophobia of the United States. He died in France in 1987, a year after being made a Commander of the French Legion of Honor.
“If Van Gogh was our 19th-century artist-saint, James Baldwin is our 20th-century one.” —Michael Ondaatje
“The best essayist in this country—a man whose power has always been in his reasoned, biting sarcasm; his insistence on removing layer by layer the hardened skin with which Americans shield themselves from their country.” —The New York Times Book Review
“It will be hard for the reader to see these films in quite the same way again.” —The Christian Science Monitor
“He has taken the old subject of race and made it even more personal probing perhaps more deeply than ever before into American racial practices.” —The Nation