Raoul Peck, a successful Haitian filmmaker and political activist, brings the controversial and thorny topic of racism to a discussion in his exemplary new documentary film “I Am Not Your Negro”.
Peck’s past moves include “Sometimes in April” (2005), a TV drama about the Rwanda genocide, and “Lumumba” (2000), a biopic about the former prime minister of Belgian Congo, Patrice Lumumba.
For his latest achievement, the director grasped the unfinished manuscript “Remember This House” by James Baldwin and merged the author’s words (the first-rate narration is by Samuel L.Jackson) with footage of interviews, meetings, and violent conflicts, and also music clips and film excerpts related to the topic in question.
The material, compiled and edited by Peck, features Baldwin’s keen observations on racial inequality and the recollections of three murdered close friends and influential civil rights leaders: Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King, and Malcolm X.
The documentary is incredibly well articulated within a structure whose chapters reveal not only indisputable, scandalous facts of the American history but also a profound, and very personal understanding of the problem by analyzing its core and not just the surface. With many years of struggle and fear, Baldwin confesses publicly by the end that he’s tired and became a pessimist – “negros were never happy in this country”, he states. “The world is not white, it never was, and never can be. A white world is just a metaphor for power”.
Fond of the Western film genre and a fan of John Wayne, Baldwin was shocked at a very young age after realizing that the black people were, after all, like the Indians John Wayne was after to kill. The question “are we the bad guys?” must have popped up in his mind for years. Why were the white people after the black people? Why segregation?
Baldwin explained that like his three friends, he had always believed in non-violent solutions to change the course of things.
Often, there is a smart intercalation of violent or sad scenes, past and present, with short passages of some classic movies that fearlessly addressed the issue with the hope and intention to reverse it. Some of these are still freshly present in my mind, cases of “The Defiant Ones”, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”, and “No Way Out”.
There’s a lot to chew on here. The enlightening “I Am Not Your Negro” will provide you with a different perspective; it will give you a lesson about a very specific dark side of the American history, warning you at the same time that this is still happening today.
It’s more than time to acknowledge that America and the world have no color and that divided we fall… why is this so hard to learn and put in practice?
ABOUT FILIPE FREITAS
Filipe Freitas is a New York-based Portuguese film critic and jazz music writer.
He’s the founder and lead critic of Always Good Movies film website, launched in 2010, and co-founder of JazzTrail, site that explores the vibrant NY Jazz Scene. He has a background in electrical engineering, a field he quit in 2012 to follow his dreams.