I Am Not Your Negro

I Am Not Your Negro
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin poses at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979. AFP PHOTO RALPH GATTI (Photo credit should read RALPH GATTI/AFP/Getty Images)
Date: 24/10/2017 Times: 7:30 pm - 9:05 pm

This film is a tour de force and was nominated for an Oscar as Best Documentary Feature earlier this year.  It’s one of the best documentaries you will ever see on race in the USA and its subject matter is deliberately pertinent to today.

In 1979, James Baldwin wrote a letter to his literary agent describing his next project, Remember This House.  The book was to be a revolutionary, personal account of the lives and successive assassinations of three of his close friends: Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr.  At the time of Baldwin’s death in 1987, he left behind only thirty completed pages of his manuscript.  Now, in his incendiary new documentary, master filmmaker Raoul Peck envisions the book James Baldwin never finished.  The result is a radical, up-to-the-minute examination of race in America, using Baldwin’s original words and flood of rich archival material. I Am Not Your Negro is a journey into black history that connects the past of the Civil Rights movement to the present of #BlackLivesMatter.  It is a film that questions black representation in Hollywood and beyond.  And, ultimately, by confronting the deeper connections between the lives and assassination of these three leaders, Baldwin and Peck have produced a work that challenges the very definition of what America stands for.
Baldwin emerges as a devastatingly eloquent speaker and public intellectual; a figure who deserves his place alongside Edward Said, Frantz Fanon or Gore Vidal.  Peck puts Samuel L Jackson’s steely narration of Baldwin’s words up against a punchy montage of footage from the Jim Crow to the Ferguson eras, and a fierce soundtrack.  There is a marvellous clip of Baldwin speaking at the Cambridge Union Society, and another on the Dick Cavett Show – the host looking sick with nerves, perhaps because he was about to bring on a conservative intellectual for balance, whom Baldwin would politely trounce.
The film shows Baldwin refusing to be drawn into the violence/non-violence difference of opinion between King and Malcolm X that mainstream commentators leaped on, and steadily maintaining his own critique.  There is a compelling section on Baldwin’s discussion of dramatist Lorraine Hansberry, author of A Raisin in the Sun.  It is vivid, energising film-making.

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I Am Not Your Negro

Year: 2017

Country: USA

Cert: 12A

Duration: 93 mins

Dir: Raoul Peck

'James Baldwin is revealed to be both a poet and a prophet when it comes to his views on race in America'

Venue: William Loveless Hall