Posted by Jill Boniske aka Arty Chick on February 5, 2017
This brilliant documentary walks its audience through the Civil Rights era with undoubtedly the most articulate and engaged guide possible – James Baldwin, writer (The Fire Next Time, Notes of a Native Son, Go Tell It on the Mountain), intellectual and social critic. Using archival footage from his many speaking engagements on television and at key locations during the Civil Rights fight, along with voice-over from a book that Baldwin never finished (read by a very reverential Samuel L Jackson), the film is told entirely in his words. And his thoughts about the state of the black life in America in the 60s sadly still apply today.
Baldwin had been enjoying an expat life in France, but returned home in the late 50s when the Civil Rights Act was being debated in Congress, and soon found himself friends with both Malcolm X and Dr. King. He marched in Selma and in Washington. And he wrote about it in prestigious publications, later using his respected-writer cred to meet with Bobby Kennedy, then the US Attorney General, to try to persuade him to step in and do something. Though Baldwin never called himself a civil rights activist, he undoubtedly had a huge impact on the movement, as his celebrity allowed him to speak truth to power and to white audiences who were quite comfortable with their white privilege. A large part of the film is taken up with the murder of three slain black civil-rights leaders – Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. – all of whom were the writer’s close friends. And his words about them, their lives and impacts are take directly from his unfinished memoir “Remember This House.”
Kudos for filmmaker Raoul Peck for letting Baldwin speak for himself here. It works so well. The documentary has just one point of view, and it is that of a thoughtful, amazingly insightful, brave soul. This should be seen by everyone in America, it articulates so many of the reasons that we have still not come to grips with racism and begs for us to do something today. SEE IT!!
(Mainstream Chick’s two cents: I enjoyed it too. While not my absolute favorite doc of 2016, I applaud the method and the message. The name “James Baldwin” always rang a bell, but I wasn’t truly familiar with his writings or his place in the Civil Rights movement until now. I was impressed with how the director managed to interweave history, poetry and pop culture (The Dick Cavett Show!) into one consistent narrative that offers interesting perspective on the racial divide — past, present, and future. The Samuel L Jackson narration/voiceover didn’t always work for me though. A few times, I wasn’t sure if I was hearing Baldwin’s voice, or Jackson’s. But perhaps that was the point. All in all, I liked I Am Not Your Negro more than the also-nominated documentary 13th from director Ava DuVarnay on the history of racial inequality in the US and the disproportionate number of blacks in the US prison system. I Am Not Your Negro is a ‘thinking person’s’ documentary and is definitely worth seeking out, especially as the nation commemorates Black History Month.)
If you’ve never seen this DEBATE between James Baldwin and William Buckley on the question: “Is the American Dream at the expense of the American Negro?”, you really should watch. I think parts of this film were taken from it.
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