I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO
Context Is King
Release Date: February 03, 2017
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, James
Audience: Teenagers and adults
Runtime: 93 minutes
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures
Director: Raoul Peck
Executive Producer: None
Producer: Remi Grellety, Hebert Peck,
Writer: James Baldwin
Address Comments To:Bill Banowski, CEO, Magnolia Pictures (Magnet Releasing)
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Baldwin was a writer and social critic during the racial conflicts that came to a boil in the 1950s and 1960s, and was known for literature that addressed topics such as racism, religion, inequality, and homosexuality. Narrating from Baldwin’s point of view and his own writing is Samuel L. Jackson, interspersed with documentary footage of interviews and debates featuring Baldwin.
Looked at through the lens of three of Baldwin’s murdered friends: Medgar Evers, Malcom X and Martin Luther King, Jr., the pangs of the African American community are put on display, though each of the three men mentioned above actively tackled their communities disadvantage in different ways. In Baldwin’s writings lies deep conflict and tension regarding his anger and bitterness towards white people, and his obvious desire to be intellectually above the emotional response he saw in movements such as the Black Panther Party, which he briefly denounces.
As far as Malcom X and Martin Luther King’s vastly different strategies, with Malcom X promoting violence and King preaching non-violence, Baldwin says that the two men’s mission eventually became one and the same before both of the men’s sudden deaths. Baldwin intelligently grapples with the issues, but Director Raoul Peck skews Baldwin’s words written over 50 years ago by placing footage of the Ferguson riots as parallels with the Civil Rights movement, creating a completely different context for the writings. (According to various news reports, the Ferguson riots were based on a lie about a police officer spread for weeks by Pres. Obama and leftists in the national news media.)
I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO is hauntingly solemn at times. Baldwin asks the audience, specifically the white audience (if you’re reading between the lines), to be willing to face the problem of racism facing American society. However, the director assumes that the problems of today are the same as they were in the 1950s and 1960s, before the Civil Rights Act and during the days of forced segregation. Consequently, I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO leaves viewers with false impressions, which is frustrating and frankly unhelpful.
The movie’s worldview is mixed, with both statements affirming Christian faith and values, including statements from Martin Luther King Jr., that are profoundly moving, but also statements from confused and racist individuals who use God’s Word tear down instead build up. This causes some mixed feelings from Baldwin as well who criticizes Christianity for reinforcing slavery, when in fact it wasn’t Christianity that did this, but in fact sinful nature, which is inside all of us. The movie also mentions Baldwin’s homosexuality briefly, though more as an afterthought and not as an essential part of Baldwin’s work, which it was.
In the end, I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO is only as interesting as Baldwin and his clear skillful way of communicating subjects as personal and complex as racism and class distinction. Dozens of movies have surfaced in just the last couple years that rightly rail against racism, both historical racism and current racism, but few filmmakers in pop culture have risen to the occasion to inspire American’s to step beyond past wrongs, and into the right. As the Rev. King once said, “We must concentrate not merely on the negative expulsion of war, but the positive affirmation of peace.”
I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO is hauntingly solemn at times. Baldwin asks viewers, specifically white viewers, to be willing to face the racial problems facing society. However, the movie assumes that today’s racial problems are the same as those faced during the forced segregation of the 1950s and 1960s. Consequently, I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO leaves viewers with false impressions, which is frustrating and frankly unhelpful.