I Am Not Your Negro (Raoul Peck 2016) |USA

by Finso Gyaltsen. Viewed at Santa Barbara Film Festival of 2017.

“I can’t be a pessimist because I’m alive,” “I’m forced to be an optimist.” – James Baldwin

Im not your Negro is an up to date documentary about the examination of race relations in America narrated by Samuel L Jackson. In I Am Not Your Negro,  director Raoul Peck envisions the book James Baldwin never finished – a radical narration about race in America, using the writer’s original words. He draws upon James Baldwin’s notes on the lives and assassinations of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr to explore and bring a new and radical point of view to the current racial narrative in America. 

This documentary has a lot of footage you wouldn’t find on youtube, of Baldwin eloquently arguing, speaking and questioning the preconceived ideas about race in different environments. This documentary is based upon an unfinished manuscript of Baldwin’s called Remember this House. With which Baldwin never got farther than 30 pages before his death, the manuscript goes into his study of three lives in the civil rights movement. All three of the leaders were under the age of 40 when they were martyred: Martin Luther King Jr., Medgar Evers and Malcolm X.

Raoul Peck goes further in depth stitching together a film that is fully contemporary; he shows the text from Baldwin’s era to show that his ideas are timeless, and that the battles have not been won. Through careful yet bold editing choices, Peck applies Baldwin’s words to events such as the Rodney King beating and the Black Lives Matter protests in Ferguson, Mo. It’s bracing, invigorating stuff, the editing keeping pace with Baldwin’s words, from the self-reflective, sensitive manuscript informed by his personal history, to his fiery orations at the Cambridge debates or on the Dick Cavett show.

I Am Not Your Negro is a thrilling introduction to Baldwin’s work, a crash course in American history, and an advanced seminar in racial politics. It is concise, roughly about 90 minutes and it doesn’t try to be an easy or a overly consoling movie, but it isn’t bitter or despairing either.


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