Where does one begin with this amazing documentary and make no mistake – let’s get that out of the way – this is an AMAZING documentary that I recommend everyone seek and discover.
In these uncertain times, I have often found myself at a loss of words on how to articulate exactly what I feel as I look at the world around me. On that level alone, the Academy Award ®-nominated I Am Not Your Negro could not have come at a more perfect time. After watching this documentary, I felt as if many others and myself are given a voice through the eloquent thoughtful words of James Baldwin.
Based on a 30-page manuscript from an abandoned 1979 project wherein Baldwin set out to detail a personal account of the lives and deaths of friends and civil rights icons Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. Although the project never went past these few pages, they are more than enough to be brought to life through the voice of Samuel L. Jackson.
The eloquence of the spoken words is accompanied with a wonderful visual language that director Raoul Peck has chosen to broaden out this original story to examine race relations in America.
As someone who (obviously) loves the language of film, I must say this cinematic technique was really put to good use. Archival interviews featuring Baldwin, photographs of the past and present, clips from classic Hollywood films, as well as contemporaneous images chronicling current events are beautifully woven to tell a story that is both very personal as well as serve a larger narrative purpose.
Often when you watch a documentary film, one tries to decipher what the central thesis of the work is. As the story revealed itself to me, I almost immediately registered that the filmmakers are trying to drive home one simple fact: history is not the past, it is now. Sure, some events may have happened in the past and as such, are a matter of record in the present. But never forget – the events of the past are alive and all around us, informing us as we journey through our lives. And sure enough, as the film neared its conclusion at 90 minutes, Baldwin in his own words said very much the same thing as if speaking to the audience from whatever realm he currently inhabits.
And given the dour circumstances and moments the documentary captured, there is a lovely and emotional chord of optimism struck at the end.
I Am Not Your Negro is an instructive and masterful work that will touch your heart and mind with its powerful message.