Working from the text of James Baldwin’s unfinished final novel, director Raoul Peck creates a stunning meditation on what it means to be Black in America.
In 1979, James Baldwin wrote a letter to his literary agent describing his new endeavour: the writing of his final book, Remember This House, recounting the lives and successive assassinations of his friends Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Baldwin was not able to complete the book before his death, and the unfinished manuscript was entrusted to director Raoul Peck (Moloch Tropical, Murder in Pacot) by the writer’s estate.
Built exclusively around Baldwin’s words, Peck’s I Am Not Your Negro delves into the complex legacy of three lives (and deaths) that permanently marked the American social and political landscape. Framing the unfinished work as a radical narration about race in America, Peck matches Baldwin’s lyrical rhetoric with rich archival footage of the Civil Rights and Black Power movements, and connects these historical struggles for justice and equality to the present-day movements that have taken shape in response to the killings of young African-American men including Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Mike Brown and Amir Brooks.
Exploring what it means to be Black in America today, Peck reflects on the legacy of racial violence that still permeates the country. In Baldwin’s words, “You cannot lynch me and keep me in ghettos without becoming something monstrous yourselves. And furthermore, you give me a terrifying advantage: you never had to look at me; I had to look at you. I know more about you than you know about me. Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” By revealing the deep connections between past and present injustice, I Am Not Your Negro weaves an epic narrative about America’s irrational relationship with skin colour—a relationship that would be absurd were it not so tragic.
“A brilliant piece of filmic writing, one that bursts with fierce urgency, not just for the long-unresolved history it seeks to confront, but also in its attempt to understand what is happening here, right now.” (Ann Hornaday, Washington Post)
“Though its principal figure, the novelist, playwright and essayist James Baldwin, is a man who has been dead for nearly 30 years, you would be hard-pressed to find a movie that speaks to the present moment with greater clarity and force, insisting on uncomfortable truths and drawing stark lessons from the shadows of history.” (A.O. Scott, The New York Times)
“It is a striking work of storytelling. By assembling the scattered images and historical clips suggested by Baldwin’s writing, I Am Not Your Negro is a cinematic séance, and one of the best movies about the civil rights era ever made.” (Jordan Hoffman, The Guardian)