James Baldwin: The Price of the Ticket uses striking archival footage to evoke the atmosphere of Baldwin's formative years—the Harlem of the 1930s, his father's fundamentalist church, and the émigré demimonde of postwar Paris.
Newsreel clips from the '60s record Baldwin's running commentary on the drama of the Civil Rights movement. The film also explores his quiet retreats in Paris, the South of France, Istanbul and Switzerland—places where Baldwin was able to write away from the racial tensions of America.
Writers Maya Angelou, Amiri Baraka, Ishmael Reed, William Styron and biographer David Leeming place Baldwin's work in the African-American literary tradition—from slave narratives and black preaching to their own contemporary work. The film skillfully links excerpts from Baldwin's major books—Go Tell it on the Mountain, Notes of a Native Son, Another Country, The Fire Next Time, Blues for Mister Charlie, If Beale Street Could Talk—to different stages in Black-white dialogue and conflict.
Towards the end of his life, as America turned its back on the challenge of racial justice, Baldwin became frustrated but rarely bitter. He kept writing and reaching in the strengthened belief that: "All men are brothers—That's the bottom line."