Skrivet 30 Mar 2017

When Baldwin met Bergman

‘At a time when the very notion of choice is so menaced, and human life held so cheap, it is good to have an evangelist around, who, for all his inflations, errors, and limits, keeps insisting that men are responsible for what is happening to men.’*

Oscar-nominated I Am Not Your Negro is currently playing at cinemas around the globe. Embarking on James Baldwin’s (1924-1987) writings, this film tells the tale of African-American history, with Baldwin’s sharp pen and intellect extending a long way, illustrating the present situation and potential future. Baldwin, a personal friend of assassinated civil rights campaigners Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X and the lesser-known Medgar Evers, was a political activist himself. Baldwin was a brilliant writer with a great interest in film, and his first-ever contribution to Esquire was an interview with Ingmar Bergman, a man to whom he expressed an affinity:

‘…I felt identified, in some way, with what I felt he was trying to do. What he saw when he looked at the world did not seem very different from what I saw.’*

James Baldwin and Ingmar Bergman met at the Filmstaden in Solna, Stockholm, in 1960. The Ingmar Bergman Archives contain a letter Baldwin wrote to Bergman before their meeting, in which he suggests a date and expresses his admiration of Bergman, even if the film he mentions was not, embarrassingly enough, directed by Bergman…

After this meeting, Baldwin was struck by the cold, bleak Swedish landscape, and considered it to offer an explanation for Bergman’s disposition:

 ‘I realized, with a small shock, that the landscape of Bergman’s mind was simply the landscape in which he had grown up.’*

This interview can be read in its entirety at Esquire Classic (requires a user account). For those of you who have yet to see I Am Not Your Negro, a crucial, revolutionising film experience awaits.

(*Esquire Classic,