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Friday, March 24, 2017

I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO


I Am Not Your Negro is brilliant and disturbing and educational and poignant and enlightening and sobering and infinitely captivating. This documentary film directed by Raoul Peck is based on James Baldwin's unfinished manuscript Remember This House, and is masterfully narrated by Samuel L. Jackson. It explores the history of racism in the United States through Baldwin's reminiscences of civil rights leaders Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr. 

I first became aware of James Baldwin when I read his semi-autobiographical book 'Go Tell it on the Mountain' in high school, and was fortunate enough to hear him lecture in person some time later (around 1985) at what was then Dekalb College. This was just a couple of years before his death in 1987, and I remember that he was just as relentlessly and unapologetically outspoken that day as he had ever been...just as he had been in the TV interviews from the '60's that I had seen with him. Much of the material in his lecture was difficult for me to listen to because it was so brutally honest and indicting of American history and of white culture, but he was so intelligent, articulate and even poetic in his delivery that I could have sat there all day and heard even more. His mastery of the English language and finesse as a wordsmith made it easier to absorb the sword of truth from his lips.

'I Am Not Your Negro' does an expertly commanding job of using movie clips, archival news footage, and clips of interviews with Baldwin to illustrate the powerful words of his manuscript, and much of it serves as a compelling time capsule that somehow resonates with uncanny accuracy and relevance for today. His words, written decades ago, ring quite sadly prophetic as it relates to our present reality.

Baldwin was incredibly and unflinchingly courageous, not just as an man of color who fearlessly gave a voice to the voiceless, but also as an out gay man who embraced his sexual orientation without trepidation. He is therefore an icon in several communities, including the literary community, and IANYN is a powerful tribute to his work and legacy on every level.