Powerful words deserve a powerful platform and Raoul Peck‘s I’m Not Your Negro gets that platform, bringing James Baldwin’s voice to the big screen. Unless you know the ins and outs of the history of the American Civil Rights movement the poet-novelist Baldwin will be virtually unknown. But take into the fold his friends network of Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, and Medgar Evers his part in the movement becomes more relevant.
They say knowledge is power, so can one person’s voice like James Baldwin. This movie will open your eyes and even if this movie based on a project that was unfinished the outcome will leave you compelled, profound especially when you realise very little has changed, if anything we’re slipping back the way.
I’m Not Your Negro is based around Baldwin’s unfinished book project called ‘Remember This House‘ (only 30 pages were ever written). An idea started when he wrote a letter to his literary agent, a book that was to be his personal account of his life and lives of his assassinated friends (Evers, King, and X). The project was never completed after his death in 1987, now 30 years later Cuban filmmaker Raoul Peck completes the project, that examines race in America, something that’s as potent today.
Many Civil Rights movies home right into the protests, the main events of the era, Pecks movie goes a little deeper with a focus on those things that weren’t centred on racism. Many things we took for granted from Newspaper/ Magazine adverts to Hollywood movies. These movies always had fictional white heroes and when there were Black heroes it was to reassure that Black people do not hate them. One movie The Defiant ones (1958) 2 convicts(Sidney Poitier, Tony Curtis) escape from a chain gang and one scene the pair are trying to get on a moving train, however as a sign of solidarity the pair fall off. This might mean nothing but it was a symbolic scene cause anger and outrage.
The movie juxtaposes between archival footage, some of Baldwin himself (Dick Cavett Show), will start to open your eyes to the amazement how deep racism goes. When James Baldwin‘s words get prophetic and personal we see modern footage from the likes of Ferguson, the rise of Obama as President are like a warning that society is sliding backward instead of forwards.
I’m Not Your Negro is one of the most unflinching socially relevant movies we’ve seen in a long time, very compelling that asks you to look deep down inside you and question you own social and moral convictions. Baldwin once said, “I can’t be a pessimist because I’m alive, I’m forced to be an optimist.”