I Am Not Your Negro (Raoul Peck, 2016): USA
Viewed by Alicia Huhn at The Santa Barbara International Film Festival 2017.
The many faces of James Baldwin are synergistically portrayed allowing us to see the world through his eyes in a powerfully moving way. The material is derived from Baldwin’s own original manuscript “Remember This House”, his personal account of the lives of his 3 best friends and the fight for freedom of all blacks. Baldwin reflects pensively, intelligently and painstakingly on the black slave “monstrosity” from a powerful viewpoint in docudrama history. Vocabulary.com describes synergy as being powerfully “more than the sum of its parts…The prefix syn- means “together with” or “united.” and “…people working together …— like a team of superheroes fighting crime.” Heroes is exactly what these men and women defenders of the civil rights movement are.
The timing of this film in the current era of #BLACKLIVESMATTER is as poignant as can be. The harsh truths of slavery then and the effects of it even now are somehow palatable in the words of James Baldwin. NOT because the reality is better than we thought but because Baldwins’ truth laden, eloquent style of pubic speaking is unquestionable, unwavering and disarming or arming, as the case may be. With a superior command of the English language Baldwin lays out truth after undeniable truth.
“This is not an overstatement. I picked the cotton and I carried it to market and I built the railroads under someone else’s whip. For nothing. For nothing. The southern oligarchy which until today has so much power in Washington … was created by my labor and my sweat and the violation of my women and the murder of my children. This in the land of the free, the home of the brave.” ~ James Baldwin
Raul Peck wields the unpopular footage of many incredible Civil Rights moments in history featuring the leadership of black heroes James Baldwin, Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X like a double edged sword. So far all the reviews I have seen are acclaiming James Baldwin and Raoul Peck. The film is Oscar nominated. There is not more I can say about the greatness of the film that has not been better said elsewhere. My favorite is a review by Dorothy Woodend of AWFJ – Alliance of Women Film Journalists.
I am however, personally equally sobered and inspired by the film. Raoul Peck and James Baldwin give voice to many sides of the race/class struggle. As a blond haired, blue eyed, “unmarried” mother of mixed race children (two handsome sons), I have long been on an educational, spiritual and transformational journey of discovery with regard to my own truth and my role in the lives of my children and in this world. This film feels to me like a relief of epic proportions. Finally the “white elephant” nobody wants to speak about in the middle of the room has been acknowledged. Or the feeling one might have after a paper bag “pops” to break the tension in a room. It is altogether startling and frightening and enlightening all in one instance. So where do we go from here? How as a nation, do we exercise morality toward all people? Especially when as a nation we have to face to truth of our so called ‘success’. Who’s success are we concerned with as a Nation? It is time that we all realize: “The story of the negro in America is the story of America. It is not a pretty story,” ~ Baldwin
“Find a new way we must.” – Alicia Mae Huhn