I Am Not Your Negro, A-
Rated PG-13, 95 minutes
One of the most powerful statements in the intelligent, affecting new documentary "I Am Not Your Negro" is "The history of America is also the history of the Negro in America. And it is not pretty." Those words come from African-American writer, playwright and civil rights activist James Baldwin, whose unfinished manuscript "Remember this House" forms the basis for the relevant, compelling documentary directed by Raoul Peck. "I Am Not Your Negro" is thoughtfully narrated by actor Samuel L. Jackson, the and explores the history of racism in the United States through Baldwin's reminiscences of civil rights leaders Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr.
Told through a collection of archival footage and interviews with Baldwin and contrasted with contemporary footage, "I Am Not Your Negro" challenges your thoughts and ideas about race in America, and to examine what, if any, progress has been made. Baldwin's thought-provoking ideas are just as pertinent in today's culture, especially after the events of Rodney King, Ferguson Missouri and Trayvon Martin, just to name a few.
Along the way, "I Am Not Your Negro" explores the lives of three important figures in the Civil Rights Movement in America: Malcolm X, Medger Evers and Martin Luther King, and the impact they had on Baldwin and the African-American culture through the years. Each had vastly different lives and backgrounds, united by the commonalities of being black and having been murdered. Baldwin recounts his personal experiences with each
man and where was when he heard the news of each man's death.
The film also offers some personal details of Baldwin's life: it's more of a personal look than a professional one, though it does skim over some important details of his life, including his sexuality (Baldwin was gay), glossed over here. That detail is one of the few minor flaws of the film, given that many of Baldwin's writings explored prejudice on many levels, including both race and sexuality and were often tied together by Baldwin himself.
As well, this was important to Baldwin's involvement in the Civil Rights movement and his relationship with both King and Malcolm X, which was often strained because of Baldwin's sexuality; of the three, less time is given to Evers, but each provides a different approach to the movement: violence, non-violence and somewhere in between, but as the film notes, while King and Malcolm X often disagreed, they be united in the big picture.
Still, even with that, "I Am Not Your Negro" is a stirring, thought-provoking and
provocative examination of race in America, especially in the 20th and 21st century. It's often difficult and painful to watch, particularly with the struggles of integration, class, crime and jobs. It's a pertinent reminder that many things have improved in the last 50 or 60 years, but that we still have a ways to go.
Nominated for this year's Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, "I Am Not Your Negro" is one of the best films of 2016 and is a must-see film.