Directed by Raoul Peck, “I Am Not Your Negro” examines the unfinished manuscript of James Baldwin’s Remember This House, a memoir on the author’s recollections of Civil Rights leaders Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The film narrates the manuscript while examining the times of the Civil Rights protests and their comparisons to the present.
Samuel L. Jackson’s timber voice reading Baldwin’s memoir adds a rich layer to the narrative. The crosscutting of footage between Baldwin, the Civil Rights leaders, the portrayal of blacks in popular media (Sidney Poitier, black face) and the present day (Ferguson, police beatings, etc) creates an interwoven picture of race relations that make the viewer question how far the country has come.
Baldwin is very astute at being an outsider, being both black and gay, and his commentary on that and what it means is haunting. He delves into the psychosis of both black and white America, the fears and hopes of both and the seeming intractability of reconciling the two mindsets. Is he right? Have we truly achieved post-racial relations since Baldwin’s death? The film argues that the nation is still very much entrenched in racial divisions.
“I Am Not Your Negro” is a well-made documentary that white, black and all audiences can take in. In this era of Trumpism, it examines critical issues worthy of thought and discussion.