You know when you’re watching a truly great film and you have that moment where you lean forward in your seat – adjust your perspective and your posterior – so you can take the film experience in all the more? I’ve had a few films like that over the years and I Am Not Your Negro is one of them.
Inspired by an unfinished manuscript, Remember This House, where James Baldwin began to tell the stories of friends Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. all of whom he lost to murder, filmmaker Raoul Peck has fine material to work with and creates an insightful, distinct voice in I Am Not Your Negro. It is the echoing of James Baldwin’s words that speaks to us. While Peck’s helming is strong over what might have been an incoherent stringing together of words and images from 50 years ago, I have to think it is ultimately the gift of James Baldwin’s words that engages us. He is at once knowing and impatient and personal as he speaks — poetic and rightly challenging when a Yale prof tries to explain to Baldwin how his telling of his own experience is wrong.
This is one among many scenes of Baldwin in the powerful documentary which is also narrated by Samuel L. Jackson speaking the writer’s words. You hang on every one of them feeling like they are being spoken directly to you. Not all of them are easy to hear but are always genuine and expressive.
Really, really short review: Powerful, strong and challenging with a sense of urgency to our modern world. For an illuminating double feature, watch this with Ava DuVernay’s 13th.