One of the most talked-about documentaries of the year so far, I Am Not Your Negro does not disappoint. Released at a time when these topics are as relevant as ever, this documentary tells one of the most important stories that the world needs to hear right now.
I Am Not Your Negro tells the story of writer and activist James Baldwin’s unfinished novel “Remember This House.” Organized in chapters, the film views like a novel, with Samuel L. Jackson narrating from Baldwin’s perspective. Raoul Peck directs with sublime priority, resulting in of the most effective and engaging documentaries of recent filmmaking.
This film recounts the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Malcom X, and Medgar Evers, prominent race activists in the 1960s. Baldwin knew all three, and took each death to mean something to his own work personally. These are stories that have been told several times, but never in such a way that associates these issues with the current treatment of minorities in our country. One needn’t look much farther than the news today to see how similar these times are to then. Seeing what we widely consider history in this way truly reminds that it was not so long ago that these things happened, and it’s certainly plausible that they could happen again. If you go into this film thinking that we live in a progressive society, it may force you to think twice.
This film expertly depicts every aspect of racial inequality in America, including a look at the lack of representation in the media and the memory of the race riots of the ’60s. One particularly haunting moment features an image of a young boy dressed as a cowboy, with Baldwin’s words over it telling his experience of when he realized the movies of his time were not about boys like him. Haunting, yes, but this is the least of the problems expressed by Baldwin.
The narration and visuals are engaging and leave little to no room for comfort. Baldwin’s words are strict, holding only one thing at the height of the conversation: the importance of racial equality. There is no relief or reassurance for non-minority viewers, nor should there be. Baldwin holds everyone at fault, and doesn’t let anyone get away with anything. This is the point of the film, and anything less would have left it cheap and ineffective.
Stories so important as this need to be told right in order to make an impression, and Peck uses Baldwin’s words to expertly tell this story exactly as it needs to be.
Samuel L Jackson narrates James Baldwin's unfinished novel, Remember This House.