Written by: Joe Stu

In 1979, James Baldwin composed a letter to his agent depicting his next venture, “Remember This House”. The book was to be a progressive, individual record of the lives and subsequent deaths of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. When Baldwin passed in 1987, he left thirty finished pages of his original copy. The result is a profound exploration of race in America, using Baldwin's original words narrated by actor Samuel L. Jackson. Filmmaker Raoul Peck paints a stark portrait of racism in modern America, using the famed novelist and social critic’s compelling writing. This is one of the last proclamations from an extraordinary American essayist.

Baldwin eloquently justifies the paranoia embedded in the black consciousness. Accordingly, Jackson conveys Baldwin’s words using a low brooding tone that contrasts Baldwin’s fiery disposition displayed in clips from talk show appearances. The documentary repeatedly highlights Baldwin’s lack of faith in America’s treatment of black people. Baldwin successfully illustrated how America carefully ignores the sacrifices of the oppressed, which made this country “great”.

Another focal point is the social position Baldwin existed in. As a gay black man during the 1960s, both white American critics and fellow black activists ostracized him. The exclusion led to a self-imposed exile, living in Paris, Turkey, and Switzerland. The documentary touches upon his expatriation, which afforded Baldwin a comparative lens of racism in his American homeland.

Already a proven standout, the film won the People's Choice Award at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival and has been nominated for an Oscar for best documentary. I Am Not Your Negro’s best quality is Peck’s storytelling through the use of visceral images. Shots of riot footage from the 1960’s, are edited with gripping imagery of present-day protests against police brutality. Through imagery alone, Peck confirms that  Baldwin's significance is all the more striking now, as it was when he was alive.

I Am Not Your Negro is in theaters now.  

Joe StuComment