Please go see this powerful docoumentary! I Am Not Your Negro was written by James Baldwin, who died in 1987 at the age of 63, and directed by Raoul Peck with narration by Samuel Jackson. If you are too young to remember the civil rights movement of the 60’s, you will learn a lot. Even if you are familiar with the era, the film will teach you new things and remind you that the struggle is far from over. There is nothing preachy about this film — the passion of the movement and its heroes make the movie fly by. The film is extremely well done — so well done that I was swept up by the drama of it all and didn’t take note of the undoubtedly brilliant editing.
James Baldwin was inspired to write this film by the 1960’s assassinations of Medgar Evers, Malcom X and Martin Luther King. He knew all three men, all of whom died before the age of 40, and shows them as young men facing unimaginable challenges. The film shows moving footage of all three, plus film of many other players of the time. Baldwin’s recounting of Lorraine Hansberry’s meeting with Bobby Kennedy is only one of the remarkable stories in this amazing film, but I was also struck by excerpts from Malcolm X’s speeches, because I was less familiar with them. We lost so much when we lost these three men.
Baldwin himself appears frequently, and his every appearance drives the film and our understanding of the struggle. Baldwin’s interviews by Dick Cavett and his speech at Cambridge University’s debate forum are brilliant. He combines anger, fear and shock with articulate analysis about what is happening and why. He’s not yelling; he is explaining. His blunt and bleak assessments are utterly compelling, yet he claims a small measure of hope, for why else would he be doing what he is doing.
Footage of more recent police shootings add urgency and remind us that this struggle is far from over, and that no one with a conscience can claim otherwise. In these difficult times when so many would erase history, we need to know what happened and why, as well as to better understand the anger and fear our brutal history of prejudice has engendered.