Baltimore stories have large part in Anna Deavere Smith's HBO film about 'failed justice system'

There will be a strong Baltimore flavor to actress and playwright Anna Deavere Smith’s latest HBO production, “Notes from the Field,” which premieres Feb. 24 on the premium cable channel.

In the film version of her one-woman play, Smith portrays 19 of the 250 people she interviewed, including three from Baltimore, discussing what HBO calls “the failed justice system.” Her performance, staged before a live audience and intercut with video footage, photographs and accompaniment, “recreates each person’s speech patterns, movements and emotions,” according to the channel.


Kevin Moore, who recorded the video of Freddie Gray’s arrest in 2015, is one of the Baltimore residents Smith portrays.

“The camera is the only thing we have to protect ourselves,” Moore says through Smith in the film. He is resolved to continue what HBO calls “the fight for change” in press materials.

Anna Deavere Smith as Jamal Bryant delivering the eulogy at Freddie Gray's funeral.
Anna Deavere Smith as Jamal Bryant delivering the eulogy at Freddie Gray's funeral. (Scott McDermott / HBO)

Smith also embodies Pastor Jamal Harrison Bryant of Baltimore’s Empowerment Temple AME Church, who eulogized Gray, and Sherrilyn Ifill, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund president and director, who shown saying, “It is impossible to talk about the criminal justice system, mass incarceration, without talking education.”

Beyond the three Baltimore figures, Smith will also perform as Denise Dodson, a Maryland inmate serving a 23-year sentence.

“Notes from the Field” opened in 2016 at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Mass., and then moved off-Broadway to Second Stage Theater in New York. She performed some of the Baltimore material here in 2015 at Center Stage.

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