7 Blog

Movies, dining and things to do / Spokane and North Idaho

It’s a good time to rewatch ‘I Am Not Your Negro’


As protests continue to roil the country, social media sites are full of advice for people who want to know more about racism. For me, reading the work of historian Jill Lepore — author of "These Truths: a History of the United States — is a good start.

But when it comes to cinema, one good starting point is the 2016 documentary "I Am Not Your Negro."

Directed by Raoul Peck, and based on the writings of the noted American novelist, intellectual and social commentator James Baldwin, "I Am Not Your Negro" is — as described by film critic Owen Gleiberman — "a kaleidoscopic and transporting 90 minutes living inside James Baldwin’s mind, coming thrillingly close to his existential perception of the hidden meaning of race in America."

Director Peck, the Haitian-born filmmaker and Haiti's former Minister of Culture, focuses not so much on who Baldwin was — the writer died  in 1987 at the age of 63 — but what he said. Culled from a collection of television appearances (early Dick Cavett, for example), mixed in with archival video footage and clips from movies, Peck's film also features Samuel L. Jackson reading from Baldwin's writings.

One of the film's high points comes when Baldwin is shown in his 1965 televised debate with conservative columnist and TV host William F. Buckley, before an audience of students at Cambridge University. The debate topic was "Is the American Dream at the expense of the American Negro?" and Baldwin makes a convincing argument — leaving Buckly, for one of the few times in his career, fumbling for an answer.

That, of course, is an arguable position. At any rate, Baldwin won the debate. The audience voted 540 to 160 in his favor.

Whatever. Decide for yourself. "I Am Not Your Negro" was a Best Documentary Feature nominee (it lost to "O.J.: Made in America") and is streaming through a number of services, including Amazon Prime, iTunes, Google Play and YouTube.

Comments