Wednesday, February 15, 2017

I Am Not Your Negro

2016, US, directed by Raoul Peck

I had seen several of Raoul Peck’s earlier films, most notably his diptych focused on Patrice Lumumba, but his prior pictures, however interesting, didn't fully prepare me for the richness of this film, a remarkable work of both documentation and reconstruction that uses James Baldwin’s own notes for an unfinished project as its backbone, interspersed with carefully-selected footage of Baldwin himself. Entirely appropriately, the film is often deeply concerned with the ways in which filmed images were and are perceived by both blacks and whites, a theme to which Baldwin returned with some regularity in his writing (both fiction and non-fiction). If one or two moments are perhaps a little on the nose – images of the events in Ferguson, for instance – that may also say a good deal about how little has changed in the decades since Baldwin was writing, which lends his words a hauntingly prophetic air. As well as hearing Baldwin’s words quoted at length (his texts are spoken by Samuel L. Jackson), there is extensive archival footage of him in full flow, most notably from an appearance on the Dick Cavett show, in which Baldwin eviscerates a Yale professor, and there’s equally electrifying film of an appearance at an Oxford debate. The very idea that a late-night show might engage in discussion of that caliber is, of course, an impossibility in 2017. 

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States