Black activist and writer James Baldwin once said: “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced”: Writer and socal critic Baldwin was an highly intellectual thinker who explored the unspoken intricacies of racial tension, and here illuminates the lives of three American civil rights campaigners in Raoul Peck’s immersive and meaty biopic, narrated by by Samuel L. Jackson.
Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X are the focus of I Am Not Your Negro (also the title of , an unflinching study of flagrant prejudice in 1960s America. It sometimes feels pretty close to the bone in its stark exposé of white supremacy and the apathy of ignorance.
When invited by literary agent Jay Acton to pen a book on the three, Baldwin’s turned him in the form of a slim yet pithy manuscript entitled Remember This House. And this became the basis for Raoul Peck’s film. Baldwin comes across as a calm and appealingly reflective man in television interviews and chat programmes. The film is fleshed with excerpts from classics such as In the Heat of the Night; Stagecoach; Dance, Fools, Dance and Elephant that feature Black actors portraying America’s cultural background in controversial settings or positions of inferiority.
Saliently shot in black and white and cleverly edited by Alexandra Strauss, the doc also includes topical posters. The occasional inter-titles, flagging up various ideas and headings, feel superfluous in a film that tells its own story evocatively and engagingly without a need for introduction.
Honourable and important in its subject matter, the only criticism of I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO is its lack of a cohesive narrative. Freewheeling between themes and ideas, the underlying thrust is one of social unease and violence, wherein the White man exploits the Black man feeling threatened by him, for reasons that never become entirely justifiable to modern audiences. Such is the nature of prejudice.
Baldwin, who was born in the Bronx and eventually died in Saint-Paul de Vence in 1987, commented that the history of America was a Black one, but he never comes across as vehemently racist or angry despite his background of poverty and deprivation, always peddling a reasonable and contemplative agenda that nevertheless maintained that racism was the source of America’s social divide. This is an enjoyable and edifying experience. MT
NOW ON RELEASE AT SELECTED ARTHOUSE CINEMAS APRIL 2017