It’s fairly common knowledge that The Exorcist (1973) was a huge, head-spinning cultural phenomenon, which vomited forth not just profits and media frenzy, but a whole demonic host of sequels and imitators. What’s less well known is that it also spawned perhaps the greatest piece of film criticism ever written: James Baldwin’s 1976 book length essay, The Devil Finds Work.
The Devil Find Work is a memoir of Baldwin’s experiences with film as well as an examination of race in American cinema. Baldwin discusses several obvious targets, such as Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and In the Heat of the Night. At first, The Exorcist seems to fit the theme less well; there are no African-Americans in the movie, and no discussion of race. But for Baldwin, this is in fact the point. As he says:
The mindless and hysterical banality of the evil presented in The Exorcist is the most terrifying thing about the film. The Americans should certainly know more about evil than that; if they pretend otherwise, they are lying, and any black man […] can call them on this lie.
The Exorcism of James Baldwin | Moving Pictures | SPLICETODAY.com