I Am Not Your Negro (Raoul Peck, 2016): USA

Reviewed by Elijah Kimmel viewed in the Lobero Theatre at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival 2017

This documentary was directed by Raoul Peck, the film features archive footage of James Baldwin and Dick Cavett with Samuel L. Jackson reading passages from Baldwin’s writing as a voice over.

I Am Not Your Negro tackles the very difficult subject of race relations in America, specifically the persecution of African-Americans. The film gives us the perspective of late civil rights leader James Baldwin by obtaining manuscripts he wrote in the 1980’s. The deaths of Medgar Ever, Malcolm X, and Dr. Martin Luther King serve as emotional plot points in Baldwin’s life as he was very close friends to those three men. The film shows archive footage of anti-black propaganda, the civil rights movement, civil rights leaders, but mainly focuses on footage of the James Baldwin masterfully articulating his position from podiums or as a guest on a talks show.

James Baldwin was an extremely gifted speaker. The most memorable moments in the film are when Baldwin responds to questions with a long and powerful monologues which leave you floored one he is done talking. There is a scene where Baldwin is on the Dick Caveat show and gives an amazing speech about how when other groups such as the Irish, Polish, or Jewish people demand rights and guns they get it and when a white man says “give me liberty or give me death” they are applauded. But if a black person does or says the exact same thing they are shut down, I am paraphrasing of course but the real speech is extremely powerful. Samuel L. Jackson reads Baldwin’s riveting manuscript about how Baldwin and his white girlfriend had to leave the apartment fifteen minutes apart so the neighbors wouldn’t think they would go out together and other obstacles they had to overcome just to meet in public. True stories from this documentary show me how much people hated something as harmless as black man and a white woman going out with each other and how afraid interracial couples were of society.

The words of James Baldwin make this documentary extremely eye opening and articulates the nuances of institutional racism so clearly. One of the main points I walked away with was that African-Americans have been robbed of reaching their true potential by systematic racism and are unfortunately still fighting an uphill battle.  I strongly urge people of all races to see this amazing documentary.


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