Luther College Hosts Virtual Screening of “James Baldwin: The Price of the Ticket”

On February 4, Luther College featured a virtual screening of “James Baldwin: The Price of the Ticket.” Professor of Africana Studies and English Novian Whitsitt and Professor of English Amy Weldon hosted an event to follow-up on the film screening. Their discussion centered on Baldwin’s motivations, works, and their relevance in modern society.

Weldon commented on her impression of the film and the aspects of it which she found meaningful. She spoke of her hope for those just learning about Baldwin.

“[This film is a] brilliant, multi-layered, very deep work of art that says so much about race in America,” Weldon said. “It says so much about the power of art to raise up to people the realities of their history and to help them heal from it. Mostly I just feel excited that maybe someone who has never read Baldwin before will see what the big deal is. He’s a part of every interesting story in American history.”

Whitsitt discussed Baldwin’s role as an advocate for the Black community and his importance as a social figure.

“He was such a powerful voice for America, for many decades,” Whitsitt said. “He started speaking with profound insight in the 50s, [and] until his last breath he was speaking about his political concerns, and much of that related to American realities of race.”

The second half of the livestreamed discussion was a conversation between Weldon and Whitsitt, about two of Baldwin’s most well-known writings: a short story titled “Sonny’s Blues” and his collection of essays “Notes of a Native Son.” Links to both texts were provided for attendees of the event to follow along as the hosts read and analyzed selections of each work, highlighting their artistic and historical significance.

Clare Rolinger (‘22) had previously read “Sonny’s Blues” and felt the gravity of Baldwin’s words and work as a whole. She commented on the themes of the text and her initial response after reading.

“I appreciated its exploration of drug abuse and addiction and the complicated relationship between the two brothers,” Rolinger said. “And I found it allowed me a deeper understanding of the expectations that are placed on Black men in America. It was incredibly captivating and moving. I would really encourage others to read it.”

The event’s primary purpose was not only to promote Baldwin’s works but to encourage others to explore the world Baldwin wrote about. Whitsitt commented on some Americans’ thoughts and feelings during Black History Month and urged his audience to see it as a celebration for all people.

“Some folks feel put out that Black History Month is sort of forced upon them in some ways, and they really just haven’t thought enough about why it exists,” Whitsitt said. “[The] contributions [of Black Americans] have been ignored and the education system has omitted those contributions. Black History Month was not created for black folks but for all Americans that have never been exposed to significant black contributions. Black History month belongs to all Americans.”

On Thursday February 25, Luther College will be showing “I Am Not Your Negro,” a film based on one of Baldwin’s unfinished manuscripts. The film will be featured in an ongoing celebration of Black History Month and will be made accessible to students via Kanopy.