I Am Not Your Negro (2016)

i am not your negro poster 2016 movie james baldwin
9.0 Overall Score

A great and thoughtful piece about America and what it means to different people

The people that need to see this will never see it or try to understand it

Movie Info

Movie Name:  I Am Not Your Negro

Studio:  Velvet Film/Artemis Productions

Genre(s):  Documentary

Release Date(s):  September 10, 2016 (Toronto International Film Festival)/February 3, 2017 (US)

MPAA Rating:  PG-13

i am not your negro perfect america james baldwin

This was not America for many people…and “getting over it” isn’t an option

James Baldwin sees the world through eyes that have seen a lot.  He lives in a world where he is subjected to racism, hatred, and judgment because of how he looks…but he recognizes that.  As he examines the world inhabited by Black men and women in America, he sees friends and acquaintances fall to the prejudice…Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, and Martin Luther King Jr. all fall due to their quest for equality and civil rights.  James Baldwin sees it all and tells it as he sees it.

Directed by Raoul Peck, I Am Not Your Negro is a documentary essay.  The film is based on an unfinished writing of James Baldwin (August 2, 1924-December 1, 1987) called Remember This House.  The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

I didn’t grow up knowing James Baldwin (or to be honest much about the Black experience in America), but watching this film, you cannot finish the movie without admiration for Baldwin and his attempts to square away America and the experience by African Americans.  In a world of debates about CRT, I Am Not Your Negro is a film that feels like it will have lasting effects…if the right people would see it.

i am not your negro medgar evers

Imagine watching friends and acquaintances die left and right simply for wanting equal rights…

The movie is narrated by Samuel L. Jackson who gives a great “performance” as Baldwin.  While Jackson’s voice is often distinctive, he is able to emulate the odd cadence and speech pattern of Baldwin in a way you forget you are listening to someone who isn’t Baldwin.  The clips of Baldwin effortlessly mix with Jackson’s voice.  It is a great effect that helps make the movie feel less like a documentary and more of an essay.

Listening to Baldwin’s poignant prose can lull you into a funk as you listen.  The poetic soft spoken dialogue is mixed with images of both Baldwin’s time and modern times.  It dips from assassinations like Malcolm X to modern deaths like Trayvon Martin which demonstrates the lack of change.  A very powerful moment in the film has Baldwin rebutting a guest on The Dick Cavett Show who argues that Black people like Baldwin need to quit being upset with the societal situation…but as Baldwin points out, it is his life…and why should he settle.

i am not your negro dick cavett show james baldwin

…watch me lay this guy out!

In 2021, the nation faced a big backlash against Critical Race Theory.  It is a college level teach course that many feared was “infiltrating” public schools and teaching kids to “feel bad” about how races are treated.  I Am Not Your Negro is a reminder that people were and are still treated different due to their skin color, sexuality, and even visual appearance.  The movie doesn’t argue that you should “feel bad” about it, but that you need to recognize that one person’s experience in America isn’t the same as another.  While the past might have been great for some, they weren’t great for others.  The same people who claim European heritage and know their lineage, argue that a whole swath of America shouldn’t care about their past…it will never be rectified, but it has to be recognized.  Baldwin saw this, and I Am Not Your Negro is a solid and powerful attempt to recognize the past and look where we are now.  Sadly, Baldwin’s “now” was 1987, and the trail of pain continues.

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Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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