By Laurie Coker
I’m Not Your Negro is perhaps one of the best films of its kind and is positively one of the best of the year. James Arthur Baldwin was an American novelist, essayist, playwright, poet, and social critic, brings to theaters a moving look at the poignant and stormy account of black lives in America, during Baldwin’s lifetime. Baldwin’s unfinished book and director Raoul Peck tell this story with discomforting and connecting relevance to today’s tumultuous times.
I’m Not Your Negro is no fairytale. There is no sugar-coating of Baldwin’s stories or messages. It is a revealing, emotionally gut-wrenching telling of some of the uncomfortable truths and lessons of the harsh realities from our nation’s past. And while Baldwin died in 1987, he is alive in Peck’s passionately presented documentary. Baldwin once wrote, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced” and this film makes viewers face some of the very things that at the root of issues headlining our news and nation currently.
Peck has taken Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript and shaped this documentary as his own vision, as if completing the book himself, drawing from it and weaving a tapestry of turbulence. Baldwin hoped, with his book, to illuminate the important works and subsequent assassinations of three of his closest friends: Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and from this Peck draws a vivid and intense, imagery laden revelation of the times. Too, there is an eerily eye-opening connection to the present. Drawing from Baldwin’s own words voiced by Samuel L. Jackson, Peck has strikingly woven together still photos and television excerpts of Baldwin himself to illustrate the events that took place in this country that many would rather forget.
I Am Not Your Negro is a potently demonstrative denunciation of racism in this country, as seen through the eyes of the frustrated Baldwin and the merciless lens of Peck. This film offers an opportunity for us to contemplate, painfully, but assuredly, on the issues that continue to plague our nation. I know some who most likely would not be moved at all, but there are many who will see the importance of the journey and who will ponder over it. We are all human, but to be humane and understand the difference is something vital for which to strive. Baldwin and Peck afford the chance for compassionate reflection and deserve an A+ for their efforts.