Last night I went to see the James Baldwin film, I am Not Your Negro, at the TIFF building in Toronto.
All reviews peg this as one of the best movies of the year, and the critics are correct in their praise.
The New York Times has reviewed this film as being a “thrilling introduction to [Baldwin’s] work, a remedial course in American history, and an advanced seminar in racial politics”. As Baldwin himself wrote, “the story of the negro in America, is the story of America. It is not a pretty story”.
This film is necessary viewing.
Directed and produced by filmmaker Raoul Peck, I am Not Your Negro melds select appearances and speeches of Baldwin’s with his 1979 work, Remember This House; an incomplete manuscript of only 30 pages by the time of his death in 1987. Samuel L. Jackson narrates with a weary, tired tone implied by Baldwin’s words.
Remember This House was to be a reflection on the deaths of Bladwin’s close friends, civil rights leaders Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King – three men, who died before the age of 40 for the basic human rights of themselves, and of their people.
James Baldwin was a renowned novelist, essayist, playwright, poet, and activist. His work inspired legendary writers like Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, Nikki Giovanni and many others. Work such as Notes of a Native Son, Another Country, and Giovanni’s Room are considered required reading for those who study literature, race, politics, sexuality, and intersectionality.
Baldwin’s work is as relevant now as it was ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s. Race is as much a topic of debate and contention, arguably more so since it is just so unbelievable that we’ve found ourselves here again. I am Not Your Negro came at exactly the right time.
As hard as the content is to swallow, the tone film is still hopeful. Baldwin has recounted many times his love for America, and why because of that, criticism was so necessary. Dissent, he said was a form of patriotism; pessimism was unproductive.
I can’t be a pessimist because I am alive. To be a pessimist means that you have agreed that human life is an academic matter, so I’m forced to be an optimist. I’m forced to believe that we can survive whatever we must survive.
Watch this film, read Baldwin’s work, watch Baldwin’s speeches.
Take a look at the trailer for I am Not Your Negro below: