Raoul Peck directed I Am Not Your Negro from the words and mind of James Baldwin in 2016.
Baldwin is the notable Black author who died in 1987 at the age of 63. In these 95 precious minutes of filmmaking, Peck starts with a clip of Baldwin’s 1968 appearance with TV talk show host Dick Cavett questioning him about his thoughts about the current state of “the Negro.” Cavett seems smug. Baldwin may indeed bristle at that label. And for sure, Baldwin is not optimistic.
Peck’s documentary takes us into Baldwin’s perspective on race via a potpourri of clips that travel through the years, from movies that helped form his young mind to his relationships with activist friends Medgar Evans, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. These three were all killed, and Baldwin was in the process of writing a book about them, 30 pages in, when he died.
Much of the soundtrack comes from these words, narrated by Samuel L. Jackson. The prose takes on a powerful, poetic, rhythmic presence.
The result: You can’t take your eyes, ears or mind off this movie.
You share Baldwin’s pain. Defiance. Wisdom. Perhaps a bit of hope that collective thought can make a difference.
And make no mistake about it. The issues that Baldwin addressed during his lifetime and Peck presented in I Am Not Your Negro are as relevant today as ever.
Should we have been thinking about racial justice each and every year? Yes, we should have. Obviously, with every news-covered Black death, it’s obvious the mission remains so immense. Are we doing better now as the Black Lives Matter peaceful protests take the streets with people of every color? More eyes are opening, and this movie could have a greater audience.