I Am Not Your Negro
An eloquent harmonisation of James Baldwin’s words and the cinematography of Raoul Peck congeal more from need than want to create I Am Not Your Negro; because a documentary of this calibre and force could not be laid upon any other foundation than the one that is imperatively built to sustain it. In other words this film is one of the most important Civil Rights documentaries ever created.
Before novelist, essayist, poet and playwright James Baldwin died in 1987, he wished to author a book entitled Remember This House, a recollection of the life and times of his friends and historical leaders Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr and Medgar Evers; this film (narrated by Samuel L Jackson) is the posthumous completion of that unfinished manuscript. His prose freely conjures an exhaustive portrait of his subject: the stark landscape and ethical wasteland of human morality.
Whatever acclaim we bestow to Baldwin, we must also grant to Peck in equal parts. I Am Not Your Negro wields its narration as a weapon, and its threat is maintained by the veritable arsenal of footage taken from historical protests and demonstrations, but it is the ingenuity of direction that allows us the honour of understanding the film’s target – where this weapon is aimed: us. To feel a compelling and visceral anguish becomes apparent as unavoidable, the cinematography is too immersive to circumvent it, but it dissipates gradually to reveal an ultimatum: that the future is much more valuable than the past, because it can still be created.
Beginning under the guise of a mere documentary, sculpting a personal portrait of three prominent African-American Rights leaders, I Am Not Your Negro clearly has an ambition to subject the present age. Juxtaposing Baldwin’s prophetic statements with contemporary footage is a blatant warning that with issues such as these, time itself is no solvent. The work alludes that the defining principle of its conception, Civil Rights, is not its final aim, but that through the process of heightening moral awareness and responsibility, all injustices will be eradicated. The documentary ends with a call to action: “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced”, and its simplicity is empowered by the gravity of the entirety of this triumphant film.
I Am Not Your Negro is released nationwide on 7th April 2017.
Watch the trailer for I Am Not Your Negro here: