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.
For all of us who loved Fredrik Backman’s novel A Man Called Ove, it is great news that his wonderful novel has been made into a movie. It kind of slipped into a couple of New York theatres this weekend with precious little if any publicity. I’m not sure anything will top the experience of reading the novel for the first time, but this is a very good movie. It is particularly good at telling Ove’s back story — how and why he became the stubborn, remote and defeated man we find at the beginning of the movie. The acting is excellent, particularly that of the pregnant Iranian neighbor (played by Bahar Pars) and her two daughters. Filipino Berg’s performance as the young Ove is very effective at setting the stage for the older Ove (played by Rolf Lassgard). Lassgard gives a moving and convincing performance as the older Ove who is struggling with profound grief. Ove is determined to disengage from the world, while at the same time he is absolutely compulsive about other peoples’ failure to follow the rules and behave intelligently. I also really liked the performance of Ida Engvoll as Sonja, Ove’s young wife. The film’s ending is predictable, but it is also lovely. This is a very human movie — there are laughs an tears, but not too many of the latter. I really recommend it.
I usually write about books, but the powerful new film Rabin, The Last Day, was utterly commanding and demands recognition. Amos Gitai’s film is a documentary in the style of The History Channel, in that it intersperses lots of actual footage and interviews with Rabin’s contemporaries, such as his wife and Shimon Perez, with scenes using actors, particularly for the coverage of the ultra-right wing Israeli Jew who assassinated Rabin and for coverage of the Israeli government’s subsequent investigation into what happened and why. The result is a powerful film that builds to a powerful climax and thoughtfully examines the people and the sentiments that led to this unspeakable violence.
Rabin was an heroic figure, willing to negotiated for peace, a step at a time. This compromise was utter anathema to the Israeli ultra-right, including certain rabbis who preached against him and all the angry protesters who repeatedly likened Rabin to Hitler and portrayed him as a traitor to his people. It wasn’t much of a leap for these zealots to call for Rabin’s death, and that was what they got.
The assassin was susceptible to the rabbis’ demands, and Israeli security had a very bad day. So Rabin died an unnecessary and tragic death. Sadly, Rabin followed in the footsteps of all to many Middle East moderates willing to negotiate for peace.
What really leaves a bad taste, however, is Benjamin Netanyahu, whose primary interest seems to have been to beat Rabin at the polls. To do that, Netanyahu is repeatedly shown at rallies portraying Rabin as a Hitler and where signs and banners called Rabin a traitor and urged violence. It doesn’t matter whether or not Netanyahu ever threatened Rabin or used violent language against him. It was enough that he never took a stand against the violence and said, “look, I disagree with Rabin, but he’s no Hitler and I condemn the violent language and threats against him.” Netanyahu instead used this charged atmosphere for his own political gain.
Here in the States, we are in the middle of a seemingly endless election season, where the right has all too often seized on extreme and violent language to attack their opponents, immigrants and anyone else they don’t happen to like. Extreme and violent language all to often leads to extreme and violent action. Have they no decency?