Thursday, March 2, 2017

I Am Not Your Negro

There are several worrying notes throughout Raoul Peck's I Am Not Your Negro, especially in light of the last few years. Using clips from the midst of the Civil Rights Movement, the words from James Baldwin become painfully relevant in the years following his 1987 death. But how so?

Peck provides a juxtaposition between Baldwin's words from the past and events from within the last decade. (There's also a dissonance with its music choices; it cuts from clips from Doris Day movies to photos of lynching, its cheery music still playing.) Yeah, it's that kind of documentary.

Narrating as Baldwin is Samuel L. Jackson. The way Jackson reads Baldwin's letter adds to the author's weariness towards the senseless violence aimed at the black community, how exhausted Baldwin has become towards police brutality. He'd be spinning in his grave if he had any clue what the country was like now.

Baldwin also notes how movies have the tendency to mangle one's personal beliefs, how audiences are fine with westerns where Native Americans are slaughtered but not so much with Sidney Poitier as a sex symbol or viable leading man. (Clips from five of Poitier's films -- A Raisin in the Sun, No Way Out, The Defiant Ones, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, In the Heat of the Night -- are shown. See a theme?) To say things have changed since Baldwin's time would be a lie.

I Am Not Your Negro shows that those who fail history are very much doomed to repeat it. (How many times must we as a society be forced to endure the mistakes of our past?) There's no denying that much still needs to be done since Baldwin's time but we as a society can make that a potential reality, and the time to do so is now.

My Rating: *****

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