Writer James Baldwin tells the story of race in modern America with his unfinished novel, Remember This House.
‘I Am Not Your Negro’ is an Oscar nominated documentary based on the unfinished manuscripts of the late African-American writer James Baldwin, and it’s a powerful piece of work about the black experience in the United States throughout the 20th century. Narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, the films sets out to blend Baldwin’s musings on race relations with images from news stories and films to help clarify his themes, and it’s undoubtedly successful in doing so. Baldwin died in 1987, but his work feels as relevant as ever and his writing is brought to the screen with a great degree of clarity by director Raoul Peck.
Much of the power in the documentary comes in how it shows both how far we’ve come, but also how far there is yet to go, and Baldwin’s commentary from the mid-80s feels both timely and prescient, despite being written over 30 years ago. The film focuses both on major events such as the assassination of key figures in the civil rights moment to the more subliminal, in terms of the media and pop culture that crafted an image of black people as lesser individuals over a period of time. I liked that the film took this approach as it shows the greater scope of the racist undercurrent that ran (and still does to an extent) through all aspects of American life, encompassing both liberals as well as more outwardly racist groups in society.
The most depressing aspect of the film is that much of the material is delivered with a sense of resignation, rather than hope. Resignation that, for all the progress that’s been made, the undercurrent of racism continues to run through the country and images of recent incidents (namely police brutality) are all the more powerful when they’re played against a backdrop of Baldwin’s words from many years ago. ‘I Am Not Your Negro’ is an excellent documentary that imparts knowledge on the audience about an important part of American history, a part that still goes on, and through the intelligent and thoughtful musings of James Baldwin, it provides a vital and different perspective on the situation.
Directed By: Raoul Peck
Narrated By: Samuel L. Jackson