I Am Not Your Negro is a journey into black history that connects the past of the Civil Rights movement to the present of #BlackLivesMatter. It is a film that questions black representation in Hollywood and beyond. And, ultimately, by confronting the deeper connections between the lives and assassination of these three leaders, Baldwin and Peck have produced a work that challenges the very definition of what America stands for.
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 his manuscript.
Now, in his incendiary new documentary, 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 and flood of rich archival material.
Why James Baldwin?
James Baldwin (1924-1987) was one of the greatest North-American writers of the second half of the twentieth century. He was raised in Harlem and, at age 24, frustrated by the state of race relations in America and regular incidences of harassment, left the U.S. for France where he would live for most of the rest of his life.
A prolific writer and brilliant social critic, he foreshadowed the destructive trends happening today in the western world and beyond, while always maintaining a sense of humanistic hope and dignity. He explored palpable yet unspoken intricacies of racial, sexual, and class distinctions in Western societies and the inevitable if unnamable tensions with personal identity, assumptions, uncertainties, yearning, and questing. He had an unrivaled understanding of politics and history, and above all, the human condition.
He worked across many genres: essays, novels, autobiography, plays. His major works include Go Tell It on the Mountain, Notes of a Native Son, The Fire Next Time and If Beale Street Could Talk. His output was massive. For Peck, “His prose is laser sharp. His onslaught is massive and leaves no room for response. Every sentence is an immediate cocked grenade. You pick it up, then realize that it is too late. It just blows up in your face. And yet he still managed to stay human, tender, accessible.”
Today James Baldwin’s words still catch us unprepared and with the same violent truth. There will hardly ever be anything as precise, as just, as subtle, as more percussive, than the writing of this man. He understood all: politics, history, and most of all, the human factor.
Baldwin survived the magicians, the gurus and the smooth talkers of his time, black or whites. His thoughts are as effective today as when they were first expressed. His analysis, his judgment, his verdicts are even more percussive today than when originally written.
There has been an evolution, but within today's context of extreme violence in America, especially against blacks, I Am Not Your Negro attempts to analyze and understand the deeper structural explanation. Peck again: “Despite progress, Martin seems quite lonely on the mountain top.”
The cycles of violence and confusion condemned by Baldwin continue, trivialized and distorted by the influence of the press, television, Hollywood, and angry partisan politics.
How do we break these cycles when we never touch the real issues themselves? How do we address the fundamental problems of America? Never before has Baldwin's voice been so needed, so powerful, so radical, so visionary.
I AM NOT YOUR YOUR NEGRO is set to be in theaters on February 3rd. To find viewing locations, visit here.