I Am Not Your Negro

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Robin Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Robin Clifford 
I Am Not Your Negro
Laura Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Laura Clifford 

James Baldwin was, from his early days, an outspoken proponent of Black rights across America. His meditations on racism and radicalism brought him world renown. His last, unpublished work, Remember This House, is the base of Baldwin’s musings on the murders of Civil Rights leaders Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King and brought to life by director Raoul Peck in “I Am Not Your Negro.”
 
Robin:
I once made the attempt to read Baldwin’s Another Country (published in 1962) many years ago and, at the time, its depth of feeling and statements about homosexuality and bisexuality were way ahead of their time and way over my head. Plus, his intellectual writing style was not exactly the cup of tea for a pulp sc-fi reader. Fortunately, I think I have broadened my mind since then, but I have yet to make another stab at his works.

Filmmaker Raoul Peck, with the cooperation of Baldwin’s family, creates a richly layered look in the author’s own words – his in archival footage and Samuel L Jackson speaking Baldwin’s words in voiceover – of life in America during the tumultuous times of the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 60s. The filmmaker does not, though, rely on just the footage of Baldwin talking – on the Dick Cavett Show and at the Cambridge University Forum in the 1960s, among other venues.

Peck also assembles a decades-spanning collection of film clips, commercials and US government documentaries that deal with issues of segregation and white dominance of our culture. “I Am Not Your Negro” is a powerful and eye-opening viewpoint of a man who spent his life fighting for social justice for his race and, by extension, all races. I give it a B+.

Laura:
Using James Baldwin's unfinished novel 'Remember This House' about the author's relationship with Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, writer/director Raoul Peck ("Lumumba") has fashioned a moving document on the trials of the black man in America that is as relevant today as it was almost four decades ago when Baldwin conceived his book.  Samuel L. Jackson narrates Baldwin's words 'The story of the Black man in America is the story of America.  It is not a pretty story.'

There is plenty of archival footage of Baldwin himself as well, including several powerful excerpts from a Dick Cavett show in which he refuses to back down to philosopher Paul Weiss. Many movie clips are used to illustrate Baldwin's examples of how Blacks have been portrayed in a (then) predominantly White culture.  Ironically, it was a white female teacher, Bill Miller, who made it impossible for Baldwin to hate whites, so he kept his distance from Black Muslims and the Black Panthers (also the NAACP, which he condemns as having made class distinctions among northern Blacks).  Baldwin believed there was something else causing white people to behave the way they did, comparing Black rage to white terror.

The stories of the three civil rights heroes who were Baldwin's friends are interwoven throughout, news each of their deaths arriving during happier moments.  History shocks and saddens again as seen through Baldwin's eyes.  But it is his voice that is the greatest takeaway here, Baldwin's passionate and deeply considered arguments irrefutable.  Peck's painstaking work is as powerful in content as DuVernay's "13th" and a poetic tribute to Baldwin's life.

Grade:  A-
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