FilmReview

Film – I Am Not Your Negro

Director: Raoul Peck
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson (narration), James Baldwin
Genre: What could have been

At a time when race relations in the USA are high in the country’s consciousness, I Am Not Your Negro provides timely insights into the history of its civil rights movement and the legacy of its most emblematic figures.

When the great writer and playwright James Baldwin returned to the USA after studying in Paris he found a country divided and a civil rights movement struggling to find a unified voice. Malcolm X, Martin Luther King and Medgar Evers were prominent voices for their black communities. But initially, Baldwin disagreed to different extents with the approach and motivation of each of them. Interestingly, he found many of their views racist, and kept away from the public discourse around race relations. However, over time, Baldwin became an important civil rights leader in his own right.

I Am Not Your Negro is based on a letter Baldwin wrote to his agent describing his next project, a book that was to be a personal account of the lives of Malcolm X, King and Evers. The documentary, though, is more about Baldwin’s journey and the evolution of the civil rights movement. He expresses his great regret that just as all four leaders were approaching a common understanding of what was needed, each was assassinated by white supremacists and the civil rights movement stalled, leaving Baldwin as its standard bearer.

I Am Not Your Negro is powerful and important. It is touring the world’s film festivals, including the Sydney Film Festival, where it is playing to packed houses and finding highly appreciative audiences. While it’s not the kind of film to get a mass viewing, given its historical context and contemporary relevance it deserves more general acclaim.

Rating: Four VIPs

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