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Tory Devon Smith Becomes First to Portray James Baldwin in New Feature Short “The Baldwin Archives”

Updated: Apr 26, 2023

Exclusive | TV & Film | Interview

In 1963, literary icon James Baldwin sat with BBC journalist Peter Duval Smith and discussed his work and race in America.

50 years later the short film “The Baldwin Archives” reenacts this moment in history with actor Tory Devon Smith portraying Baldwin - making him the first actor in history to play Baldwin on film. Directed by Laura Seay and starring Jordan Gavaris as Peter Duval Smith, the new feature short film will premiere on YouTube and Vimeo Friday, April 21st, 2023 at 12 a.m.

Tory Devon Smith shares exclusively with Gaye Magazine that stepping into the role of Baldwin was incredible and he was honored to be the first person to play him.

"It feels really incredible,"

"I did my research for years and there have been performances of James Baldwin on the stage but not quite a film in this particular way," Smith tells us.

Watch the Trailer Below:

actory Tory Devon Smith plays james baldwin
Tory Devon Smith | Photo Credit: Corey Seeholzer

Born and raised in the Foster care system in Bakersfield, California Smith became infatuated with performing at an early age. Eventually using performance as a form of escapism to cope with a traumatic childhood.

“I just remember going to the library and opening books and reading them as a kid and then I just naturally wanted to perform these stories.”

Smith experienced years of theater in his teenage years, winning multiple acting festivals in high school, with his spare time spent in community theater. His passion and talents landed him a full-ride theater scholarship to Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California.

In 2015, Smith’s breakthrough role occurred when he was cast as Valente in the short-lived BET sitcom “Zoe Ever After" alongside Grammy award winner and R&B icon Brandy.

Since then, Smith has starred in various roles on television and film including Baz Luhrman’s directed Netflix series “The Get Down” and ABC’s “Modern Family”.

With nearly a decade of acting credits to his name, Smith began looking for subject matter to portray that would affirm his queer identity.

The idea of a short film based on James Baldwin began after Smith relished Baldwin’s literary work, biographies written on the icon, and specifically, Baldwin’s filmed interviews.

He was just ferociously charismatic and energetic and direct and intense,” Smith said.

Watch "The Baldwin Archives" Snippet - BBC Interview

With the idea in tow Smith launched an Indiegogo campaign to fund the film. By the end of the campaign's run, he was able to garner over $17,580 in funding.

An accomplishment that Smith called “rather surprising and so gratifying at the same time”.

He continued, “I worked really hard during that campaign and I raised that money myself. So it was surprising because...I guess, the sort of insecurity of an artist, you think no one is going to care. But they actually do.”

Smith called upon his creative tribe to help bring the film to life. One of those is the film’s director Laura Seay.

“I visualized her as the director. I was such a fan of her short film work. She has a collaborative artist named John Orphan, who's the cinematographer. His work is just beautiful and brilliant. I spoke with them about this particular project and bringing it to life.”

To step into Baldwin’s shoes, Smith worked closely with Seay and his dialect coach Andrea Odinov, who encouraged him to not lose his own essence in portraying Baldwin.

“I think when you're trying to capture a human being, specifically an icon, you're not necessarily going to be their exact twin...”

"The Baldwin Archives" Short Film
actor tory devon smith becomes first to play james baldwin on film
Tory Devon Smith | Photo Credit: Corey Seeholzer

To step into Baldwin’s shoes Smith said he worked with Seay who encouraged him to not lose his essence in portraying Baldwin, with his performance not being a straightforward imitation of Baldwin.

“ I think when you're trying to capture a human being, specifically an icon, you're not necessarily going to be their exact twin...

For Smith the last few years in the industry have been about growth.

“During 2020, when we were all locked up, I went into myself and I thought, well, I don't know if we'll ever be able to act again because that's such a public activity," He began.

“I thought, well, what is it about acting that I love? And I said to myself, I love the exercise of it. It does something for my soul. It does something for me. It's precious to me.”

the baldwin archives
"The Baldwin Archives"
"The Baldwin Archives"

In addition to his professional acting career, Smith works as an adjunct professor at his alma mater Loyola Marymount University.

Smith said teaching has been an incredible experience and he loves to be in service to young performers.

“It's so nice to be selfless, to not think about my career and where it's going, because being an actor, my God, it's a leap of faith.”

Follow Tory Devon Smith on Instagram and Check Out more details and behind-the-scenes footage of "The Baldwin Archives" at

Watch Our Full Feature Interview with Tory Devon Smith:

Tory Devon Smith | Photo Credit: Corey Seeholzer (


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