Narrated by Samuel Jackson (who does a fantastic job, by the way) and featuring American novelist, essayist, playwright, poet and social critic, James Baldwin, I Am Not Your Negro is a documentary built around Baldwin’s books, essays, letters, notes, interviews, photographs and an unfinished manuscript he was writing at the time of his death in 1987. Remember This House is a 30 page incomplete memoir which reflects on Baldwin’s personal recollections of and relationships with civil rights leaders Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr, and it also serves as the foundation for this documentary. Framed by a thought provoking 1968 interview Baldwin gave Dick Cavett on The Dick Cavett Show, I Am Not Your Negro also tells some of Baldwin’s personal story as it relates to race in America based on his own experiences.
There are a few impactful aspects of this work. Baldwin was a thinking man with a great ability to articulate his thoughts quite clearly and in a way that persuades you to agree with him, or at least consider the validity of his statements and his way of thinking. He had a unique gift; an ability to allow people to see things from his perspective – from the African American perspective. That’s no easy feat; particularly when the historically tense issue of race relations in America is the topic of discussion; and I’d imagine it was especially difficult during those times when Baldwin was the only person of color present as he addressed a room full of white men.
Secondly, the continued significance of Baldwin’s words is sad, profound and astounding. His 50 year old interview could be spoken nearly verbatim today, as, unfortunately, Baldwin’s points are still applicable. I Am Not Your Negro demonstrates this fact with strong supporting evidence that is hard to argue with.
The way director/writer/producer Raoul Peck and this team built a documentary around these 30 pages of words and crammed it full of history from slavery to very near the present day is brilliant and beautiful and ugly and powerful. Some of the footage is painful but all of it is valuable and all of it is important.
More than anything, what made me sad while watching this documentary was the realization that many of the people who need to see I Am Not Your Negro the most, will probably never bother. I’m sure the racists, the bigots, the hate mongers, the small minded trolls who hide snugly behind their keyboards, will have plenty of disgusting things to say about this movie, Baldwin and black people, like they always do. And I am willing to bet you none of the aforementioned would dare sit down and seriously watch it and listen to it, considering the cowards that they are deep down. I’m talking about those who are afraid they may have to do some independent thinking and some work on themselves and make some changes in their lives and to their thoughts and in their hearts, and dare I say… admit they might be mistaken in their beliefs.
I feel as though I’ve written something similar to this in a previous review. I’ve done quite a few now, so I don’t remember every one in detail, but we have been ducking and dodging the subject of racism in this country for far too long and it is glaringly obvious that this approach is getting us absolutely nowhere. It needs to somehow be addressed head on, as it is here, if anything is ever expected to change for the better, as we are currently living witnesses to too many changes for the worse. It remains the elephant in the room that comes up at every single opportunity, and there’s a reason why it comes up and why it will continue to do so. It will exist until we all face it, admit we have a damn problem here, figure out how to deal with it and at least try to work it out.
I Am Not Your Negro earned 9.75 out of 10 bloops. It is an excellent, must-see documentary for all. My one small complaint is that for what may be the very first time, I wish a film were longer. This is a documentary that is chock full of information and I, for one, would have appreciated if a bit more time had been taken to relay it all. I mean, the energy of the piece is absolutely amazing, so maybe it’s me who is a bit slow. It just seemed very jam-packed with information and visuals at times as you must keep up with which event is being highlighted, because there is so very much to see and listen to and take in and process here. If you see it once, you might want to see it again to catch the things you might have missed the first time. And you wouldn’t mind one bit.
This documentary lends evidence to the fact that as far as we would like to believe we have come as a nation we have been lazy and complacent, we have been doing just enough to make ourselves feel better about ourselves and our bullshit – but it’s not enough – and we still have a lot of work to do and much, much further to go when it comes to what we call “race” in America. I Am Not Your Negro digs into the gaping, unhealed wound of racism, prejudice and oppression unapologetically and forces us to take one hard, blunt, hour and thirty five minute look at ourselves, what we’ve done to one another, and as a result, what we have become. Go see it now!
1 = worst ever, avoid at all cost
2 = very bad, forget about it!
3 = poor movie, not recommended
4 = not good, even for free – NO!
5 = so-so, worth it if you don’t have to pay
6 = not bad, could have been better
7 = good movie, worth seeing
8 = great movie, don’t miss it!
9 = excellent movie, a must see!
10 = a masterpiece, go see it now!
Note: I know, I know. I was supposed to take one for the team and see Gold last week. But you know what? I just couldn’t work up any enthusiasm for that movie. I tried, but I figured it would be a standard 7-8 blooper. And then I would be upset I wasted my time. I’ll get around to it I suppose, but I’m truly in no great rush to see it or review it.
- Good Ole Boy – A family comedy starring absolutely no one whose name you would know. But it looks promising so I’m willing to give it a try.
- The Dark Night – A horror movie about a movie theater massacre that could turn out to be really, really good, or really effin terrible. We shall see… If I wind up loving it or walking out, I will surely let you know.
- The Lego Batman Movie – It’s kind of sad when this is the only movie coming out this week that a grown woman with no small children can look forward to. But I can’t wait!