I Am Not Your Negro, directed by Raoul Peck, is a haunting documentary that uses James Baldwin's words to narrate a powerful film about the nuances of race and class in America.
James Baldwin was a groundbreaking writer: Black, gay and unapologetic. He became a household name by the 1960s and even graced the cover of Time Magazine in 1963. His books like The Fire Next Time solidified him as a thought leader and political figure. With archival footage and Samuel L. Jackson narrating Baldwin's words, I Am Not Your Negro uses an incomplete manuscript from the Harlem native to tell a story that is frighteningly relevant today.
The manuscript focused on three of his friends who died tragically: Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. But this isn't just a doc about race and class. Baldwin's commentary is much more layered. His insight was and is heartbreaking, poignant and unforgettable. With pure cinematic magic, Peck delivered one of the best documentaries of the year.
Raoul Peck carefully and respectfully brought Baldwin to the big screen — a ten-year journey. This is not a typical doc on James Baldwin's life. There are no expert opinions. It's just James Baldwin. The Haitian filmmaker crafted a film as masterful as Baldwin's writing. Peck maintained the agency in Baldwin's words and narrative, using polished editing, eye-popping imagery and fitting music to skyrocket Baldwin’s words. Peck told The Hollywood Reporter, "I didn't want anybody to interpret him, to speak for him. I wanted to be inside his head." Mission accomplished.
Each frame is so relevant, it's terrifying. It's as if James Baldwin rose from the grave, warning us of the horrors we've ignored and the horror that might be ahead. With Peck's direction, I Am Not Your Negro forces the audience to acknowledge the twisted gruesomeness of racism. But the film is not as simple as Black versus white. There is a nuance and complexity you must see to fully understand. The movie is advocacy on screen, warning us of social dangers and a "kingdom decline." No matter your background, you will be moved by I Am Not Your Negro. In one of the chilling final lines, Baldwin states, "This is not the land of the free, it is only very unwilling and sporadically the home of the brave."
I Am Not Your Negro is playing in select cities.
See BET.com's critically-acclaimed original documentary Holler If You Hear Me: Black and Gay in the Church above.
(Photo: Library of Congress/Magnolia Pictures)