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Ta-Nehisi Coates’ ‘Between the World and Me’ – First Wave Cast Announced for HBO Special


An all-star list of Black celebrities have been announced for the upcoming HBO special adaptation of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book Between the World and Me. As I reported last month, HBO announced that it was producing an adaptation of Coates’ seminal book for a special event. Yesterday, the first wave of performers was revealed, including Angela Bassett, Alicia Garza, Joe Morton, Phylicia Rashad, Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter, Courtney B. Vance, Pauletta Washington, Susan Kelechi Watson and Oprah Winfrey. They got Oprah.


As part of the special event, the production will include elements of a stage production from 2018 and add elements such as archival footage and special readings. Although it’s not yet clear how the special guests will be involved, I assume some or all of them will read parts of Coates’ book.

Oprah is a noted fan of Coates’ work, having selected his first fiction novel The Water Dancer for her prestigious book club last year. So while it’s not necessarily a surprise that Oprah will take part, it’s still quite the stamp of approval and a surefire boost to this special’s ratings and profile.

Check out the release below for additional details and profiles on the announced cast.

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Angela Bassett, Alicia Garza, Joe Morton, Phylicia Rashad, Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter, Courtney B. Vance, Pauletta Washington, Susan Kelechi Watson and Oprah Winfrey to Star in the HBO Special Event BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

Director Kamilah Forbes To Executive Produce With Ta-Nehisi Coates, 
Susan Kelechi Watson and Roger Ross Williams 

LOS ANGELES, August 13, 2020 – The first wave of featured performers has been announced for HBO’s adaptation of the critically acclaimed stage show, based on the #1 New York Times bestseller of the same name by author and journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates. Originally adapted and staged by the Apollo Theater in 2018, the special will combine elements of that production, including powerful readings from Coates’ book, and will once again be directed by award-winning director and Apollo Theater Executive Producer Kamilah Forbes. It will also incorporate documentary footage from the actors’ home life, archival footage, and animation. The special, which is currently in production under COVID-19 guidelines, debuts this fall on HBO and will also be available to stream on HBO Max. 

The cast will include: Angela Bassett, Alicia Garza, Joe Morton, Phylicia Rashad, Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter, Courtney B. Vance, Pauletta Washington, Susan Kelechi Watson and Oprah Winfrey. Additional cast to be announced. 

Angela Bassett recently starred in “Black Panther,” “Mission: Impossible-Fallout,” “Bumblebee,” and on television,”9-1-1,” and “Master of None.”  Other projects include feature films “Otherhood” and “The Flood,” for which she previously received an Emmy® nomination for Outstanding Narrator. Angela wrapped production on the upcoming action thriller “Gunpowder Milkshake,” and she was recently nominated for two Emmys®, including Outstanding Narrator for the “Imagineering Story: The Happiest Place On Earth” and Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series for HBO’s “A Black Lady Sketch Show.” 

Her career began in theater, with roles in “Fences,” “The Mountaintop,” and “Macbeth.”  Earlier film roles include John Singleton’s “Boyz N The Hood,” “What’s Love Got To Do With It, “Waiting to Exhale,” “Strange Days,” “Malcolm X,” “London Has Fallen,” “Olympus Has Fallen,” and “How Stella Got Her Groove Back.” Ms. Bassett is the recipient of a Golden Globe Award and eleven NAACP Image Awards; was nominated for an Academy Award®, two Screen Actors Guild Awards, six Emmys®, and nine BET Awards; and holds a coveted star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.  She was nominated for a Directors Guild of America Award for her directorial debut, the Whitney Houston biopic “Whitney.”  She was also a director on “American Horror Story.” 

Alicia Garza founded the Black Futures Lab to make Black communities powerful in politics. In 2018, the Black Futures Lab conducted the Black Census Project — the largest survey of Black communities in over 150 years. An innovator, strategist, organizer, and cheeseburger enthusiast, she is the co-creator of #BlackLivesMatter and the Black Lives Matter Global Network, an international organizing project to end state violence and oppression against Black people. Alicia serves as the Strategy & Partnerships Director for the National Domestic Workers Alliance, the nation’s premier voice for millions of domestic workers in the United States. She is also the co-founder of Supermajority, a new home for women’s activism. She shares her thoughts on politics and pop culture on her podcast, Lady Don’t Take No

Joe Morton is an Emmy® Award-winning film, television and stage veteran, best known as “Rowan/Eli Pope” in Shonda Rhimes’ groundbreaking series “Scandal.” He most recently starred as ‘Reverend Arthur Finer’ on the series “God Friended Me” and recurs on “The Politician.” Morton is also known for his iconic roles in films “The Brother From Another Planet,” “Terminator 2: Judgement Day,” “Justice League,” and “Speed”, among many others. Morton made his Broadway debut in the Tony® Award-winning musical “Hair,” followed by his starring role in “Raisin,” for which he garnered a Tony nomination and Theatre World Award. In 2016, Morton returned to his theater roots portraying the iconic comedian Dick Gregory in the one-man show “Turn Me Loose” off-Broadway and was honored with the NAACP Theatre Lifetime Achievement Award. He reprised his role in “Turn Me Loose” at The Wallis-Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in fall 2017.

Phylicia Rashad is an accomplished actor and stage director. Known for her role Claire Huxtable on “The Cosby Show,” Rashad has appeared on “This Is Us” (2019 Emmy® nomination), “Empire,” and “David Makes Man.” Her long list of stage credits, both on and Off-Broadway, include several musicals such as “Jelly’s Last Jam,” “Into the Woods,” “Dreamgirls,” and “The Wiz.” She was inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame and received the 2016 Lucille Lortel Award for for her performance in Tarell Alvin McCraney’s “Head of Passes” at the Public Theater, a role she reprised at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles. Rashad performed in “Richard II,” the 2020 Shakespeare on the Radio collaboration between The Public Theater and WNYC. On Broadway, Ms. Rashad has performed in “August Osage County,” “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” (a role she reprised on the London stage), “Gem Of The Ocean” (Tony nomination), and “Cymbeline.” She received both the Drama Desk and the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play for her performance in the 2004 Broadway revival of “A Raisin In The Sun.”

Among Rashad’s film credits are “Creed” and “Creed II,” “Just Wright,” and “Tyler Perry’s Good Deeds,” “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enuf,” and “A Fall From Grace.” Upcoming films include the animated Pixar fantasy, “Soul,” and the Christmas musical, “Jingle Jangle.” Phylicia made her directorial debut at the Seattle Repertory Theater with August Wilson’s “Gem of the Ocean.” Other directing credits include, “Our Lady of 121st Street” “The Roommate,” “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone” (2014 NAACP Theatre Award for Best Director), “Immediate Family,” “Fences,” “A Raisin in the Sun,” and “Four Little Girls.” She will direct an upcoming revival of Charles Randolph Wright’s “Blue” in New York in 2021.

Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter, is an American rap artist and MC for the Philadelphia-based hip-hop group, The Roots. Trotter, who co-founded The Roots with drummer Questlove, is widely lauded for his complex and politically aware lyrical content and his sharply live performances. The four-time Grammy Award winning artist – along with his band The Roots – are a staple in late-night television, starring as the house band for “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.” Tariq also served as a co-producer on the Grammy Award-winning Original Broadway Cast Recording of “Hamilton.” Black Thought and Questlove of the Roots executive produced a new documentary series, “Hip-Hop: The Songs The Shook America,” which launched last year under their production company, Two One Five Entertainment. Trotter’s acting credits include the role of Reggie Love on the first season of HBO’s “The Deuce.” Trotter is set to release the third volume of his “Streams Of Thought” series in the Fall of 2020.

Courtney B. Vance’s portrayal of Johnnie Cochran in “The People vs. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story” earned him Emmy®, Critics Choice, and NAACP Image awards, as well as SAG and Golden Globe nominations.  Most recently, Courtney stars in the upcoming HBO drama series, “Lovecraft Country.” He also began filming the third season of NatGeo’s “Genius” series in which he will portray Aretha Franklin’s father, C.L. Franklin, and he was announced as the star of AMC’s “61st Street,” a courtroom drama to be executive produced by Michael B. Jordan and Alana Mayo of Outlier Society from BAFTA winner Peter Moffat. His recent films include “The Photograph,” and “Uncorked,” with Niecy Nash and Mamoudou Athie. Courtney’s debut as Spc. Abraham ‘Doc’ Johnson in “Hamburger Hill” launched a prolific cinematic career that includes films such as “The Hunt for Red October,” “The Preacher’s Wife,” “The Adventures of Huck Finn,” and “Terminator Genisys.” He was awarded Tony Award nominations for his debut performance in August Wilson’s “Fences” and his starring role in “Six Degrees of Separation.”  He won the Tony for Best Featured Actor in a Play for his stellar performance in Nora Ephron’s “Lucky Guy.” Courtney earned a Grammy nomination for his narration of Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s book, “Accessory to War.” Courtney was announced last year as the new President of the SAG-AFTRA Foundation. 

Pauletta Washington is a veteran of both Broadway and screen. Her stage credits include “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Sophisticated Ladies,” “Shakespeare’s Cabaret,” “The All Night Strut!,” “Love, Loss, and What I Wore,” “Desperate Writers,” “Soul Possessed,” “Spiritual,” “Jerry’s Girls” and “A Christmas Show.” Washington’s film and TV credits include “Genius: Aretha Franklin,” “She’s Gotta Have It,” “The Real MVP: The Wanda Durant Story,” “The Parkers,” and  “Beloved.” 

Susan Kelechi Watson currently stars in NBC’s “This Is Us” for which she earned two Screen Actors Guild Awards, as well as a 2020 Critics’ Choice nomination and 2018, 2019 and 2020 NAACP Image Award nominations.  She started in “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” opposite Tom Hanks for director Marielle Heller. She is an Executive Producer of Rashaad Ernesto Green’s film “Premature,” which premiered at Sundance to critical acclaim. She currently serves on the board of Drama Club, an organization that uses theater to mentor incarcerated youths in New York City.

Oprah Winfrey is a global media leader, philanthropist, producer and actress.  She has created an unparalleled connection with people around the world, making her one of the most respected and admired figures today. Winfrey is an Academy Award®-nominated actress for her role in “The Color Purple,” earned critical acclaim in “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” and produced and acted in the Academy Award®-winning film “Selma.” Winfrey most recently portrayed “Mrs. Which” in Disney’s “Wrinkle in Time” film adaptation from director Ava DuVernay. Through her company’s film division, Harpo Films, Winfrey has produced projects based on classic and contemporary literature including: the award-winning “Tuesdays With Morrie;” “Their Eyes Were Watching God;” and the Emmy®-nominated HBO Films “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” in which Winfrey also starred. In 1998, Harpo Films produced the critically acclaimed “Beloved,” based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Toni Morrison, which co-starred Winfrey and Danny Glover.  In 2007, Harpo Films co-produced “The Great Debaters.” In 2009, Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry supported Lionsgate’s distribution of “Precious,” based on the novel by Sapphire. In 2014, Oprah Winfrey teamed with Steven Spielberg and Juliet Blake to produce the feature film “The Hundred Foot Journey.”  In 2013, Winfrey was awarded the Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. In 2018, she was honored with the Cecil B deMille award by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. 

BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME is directed by Kamilah Forbes who also serves as executive producer; executive produced by Ta-Nehisi CoatesSusan Kelechi Watson and Roger Ross Williams. Williams’ production company ONE STORY UP produces.


Ron is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of POC Culture.  He is a big believer in the power and impact of pop culture and the importance of representation in media.

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