I Am Not Your Negro, Review

I am not your negroEDITEDDirected by Raoul Peck, the documentary, I am Not Your Negro, is based on an unfinished book by James Baldwin about the three modern iconic black leaders who were assassinated: Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King Jr, and Malcolm X.

All three represented the three distinct movements in contemporary black history and culture: the NAACP, the peaceful resistance movement of MLK, and the more activist Nation of Islam Movement of Malcolm X.

The documentary, on so many levels, is almost impossible to take in in one sitting. Its sweep is large, including archival photos and footage of lynchings; some of the divisions among the black leadership; the civil rights era, including the school integration crisis in the south prompting visceral white reaction: the riots and the Black Panther confrontations with the police; footage of the trauma within the black community after the assassinations of Evers, King, and Malcolm X.

All of these historically momentous events became more compelling with the brilliant language of Baldwin’s text woven into the documentary and footage of Baldwin’s provocative speaking and debating skills (Baldwin had early training as a preacher).

Peck’s brilliant directing made use of images of the volatile civil rights era seamlessly blended in with the more contemporary images of Obama’s presidency, the Black-Lives-Matter protests and the photos of some of the young blacks killed by the police, prompting the protests.

Peck managed to brilliantly incorporate brief excerpts of classic films showing either how blacks had been demeaned and stereotyped as characters or how they began to be slowly given substantial character roles. He also included snippets of some classic white films with characters who were portrayed as western heroes or as romantically desirable, two characterizations denied blacks in the Hollywood film industry for decades.

Be prepared for an emotionally engaging film at the top of its game in presenting a comprehensive look at post-World War II black America under the exquisite direction of Raoul Peck and the literary brilliance of James Baldwin.

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