February 22, 2024

The documentary “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” from 1982, is a film of great importance and distinction. It is labeled as a work of political history about the civil-rights movement and the failure of the United States to provide justice and equality for Black Americans. It stands out among other films about James Baldwin as it is an investigative film featuring Baldwin’s travels and encounters to important places in black American history. The film is also a commemorative project of personal and historical reclamation and reveals profound ideas through a thoughtful form and a distinctive method. Time and place are at the heart of the film, and the movie rescues recent history from oblivion, making it urgent in the present. Throughout the film, Baldwin is accompanied by prominent participants in major events at the places he visits, adding depth and relevance to his journey. The film captures Baldwin’s ideas and reveals his thoughts on the failures of the civil-rights movement. He seeks to make the voices and lives of Black people, celebrated or not, sing out in their places today, and brings his perspective on American history and tradition into the film. Overall, “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” is a historical and personal exploration of the civil rights movement and its impact on America.