Now Reading: ‘I Am Not Your Negro’ Explores James Baldwin’s Life & Activism


‘I Am Not Your Negro’ Explores James Baldwin’s Life & Activism

April 2, 20176 min read

The documentary I Am Not Your Negro will be released on DVD on May 2, 2017. Here is a quick review that explains why you need to pre-order a copy before its release next month.

In 1979, James Baldwin wrote a letter to his literary agent describing his next project, Remember This House. The book was to be a revolutionary, personal account of the lives and successive assassinations of three of his close friends—Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. At the time of Baldwin’s death in 1987, he left behind only thirty completed pages of this manuscript. Now, in his incendiary new documentary, I Am Not Your Negro, master filmmaker Raoul Peck envisions the book James Baldwin never finished. The result is a radical, up-to-the-minute examination of race in America, using Baldwin’s original words. This film is a journey into black American history that connects the past of the Civil Rights movement to the present of #BlackLivesMatter and beyond. Confronting the deeper connections between the lives and assassinations of these three leaders, Baldwin and Peck have produced a work that challenges the very definition of what America claims to stand for.

I am not your negro

The film moves in chronological order with flashbacks to the past. Equipped with a voice over from Samuel L. Jackson who sounds so melodious and clear I didn’t recognize his voice. I Am Not Your Negro will expose a new generation of activists to James Baldwin’s inner thoughts, how he felt about living in France versus living in America, and north versus south and how they both handle racism. Baldwin meets the challenge head-on with eloquence and poise, although deep down he’s scared to death of whether or not he will make it through the day. He stresses that African Americans must constantly be vigilant to survive.

James Baldwin was an articulate, assertive man who spoke sternly about race relations in America. He struggled with remaining optimistic regarding the state of white supremacy. He searched for truth in an attempt to understand the motives and the attitudes as to why white people hated black people so vehemently. All of that topped with watching his friends and civil rights leaders die–his optimism began to turn into hopelessness. He never considered himself an activist. He thought of himself as a witness or an observer. He was able to discern the distinct differences between Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and Medgar Evers. Malcolm X represented force and the protection of African Americas. King believed in non-violent resistance. Evers was the youngest of them all and represented the NAACP and believed in justice.

Baldwin was the oldest of the four, but Medgar Evers was the first to be gunned down. He was under the impression that since he was the oldest, he should be the first to die. Baldwin didn’t believe that all white people were racist, but he lived in constant fear of death from them. He also believed that their fear of the unknown is what made them the way they are. That deep down white people may not hate us because we’re black but because we challenge their status in American society. The endless need for reassurance from black people is what keeps them comfortable, despite the transgressions white people have committed against blacks.

What is scary is how seamlessly the film transitions between the racially charged tragedies of today and the tragedies of the civil rights movement. It paints a picture that race relations have not changed in since the 1960s. Black people wer not put in a position of fear by themselves. There is a sense of denial from white people and their refusal to face racism, which has placed black individuals in fear. The bottom line of James Baldwin’s message is the future of black people in America rests in the hands of white Americans and their willingness to face racism. They hold the privilege and the platforms to promote equality.

James Baldwin was a poet, a prophet, and a renaissance man that has left his mark on black history and American history. His voice continues to resonate through generations. His scathing critique on race in America is as accurate as it is profound. His struggle is our struggle, and his desire to share the past with us will give audiences an idea of what to expect from the future. History will repeat itself if things don’t change, and change starts by acknowledging and acceptance.

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Valerie G.

Valerie Complex is a freelance writer and professional nerd. As a lover of Japanese animation, and all things film, she is passionate about diversity across all entertainment mediums.