I Am Not Your Negro (5 stars)

Cultural icon James Baldwin is the subject of this outstanding, Oscar-nominated documentary from Raoul Peck

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I Am Not Your Negro

This is an outstanding, powerfully affecting, Academy Award-nominated documentary, its story told entirely in the words of James Baldwin. Novelist, essayist, poet, playwright, activist and a profoundly influential cultural figure, Baldwin was a Harlem street kid who became an intellectual, articulate social commentator. He did not describe himself as a Civil Rights activist, but as 'one of the witnesses' to important events of the 20th century, and he was superbly equipped to write about them.

When Baldwin died in 1987, he left 30 pages of essay and notes for a book he never completed. The book – Remember This House – was to be an exploration of race in America told through the stories of three friends of Baldwin's, all of them murdered before they were 40. The three friends were Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Dr Martin Luther King. 'The story of the Negro in America is the story of America. It is not a pretty story.'

Filmmaker Raoul Peck (himself a distinguished artist whose work, should you wish to check it out, includes the terrific narrative feature Lumumba) has Samuel L Jackson serve as narrator, voicing a brilliantly curated selection of Baldwin's letters, published work and speeches, as well as the insightful observations on his assassinated friends. Among Baldwin's other friends seen in the film are Marlon Brando, with whom he shared digs in the 1940s, Harry Belafonte, Sammy Davis Jr and Ray Charles, for whom Baldwin wrote several songs.

An equally striking selection of film clips, TV shows and ads, archive news footage and music swirl through Baldwin's voice, painting a pained, unflinchingly honest and reasoned account of race relations in the US, and beyond. At one point we see him after the death of Malcolm, teary-eyed, on a talk show, telling host Dick Cavett, 'Now they don't need us they're going to kill us all off.' He was frequently described as a visionary and had he lived to see recent and current events from Ferguson to the White House he would be telling us, with plenty of evidence, 'I told you so'. I Am Not Your Negro is a riveting, thought-provoking work, and would make a devastating double-bill with its fellow 2017 Oscar-nominee Ava DuVernay's 13th.

Selected release from Fri 7 Apr.

I am Not Your Negro

  • 5 stars
  • 2016
  • US
  • 95 min
  • 12A
  • Directed by: Raoul Peck

Documentary examining race relations in America, based on James Baldwin's unfinished manuscript Remember This House, which is told through the stories of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Dr Martin Luther King. Director Raoul Peck makes use of Baldwin's writing over archive footage, news clippings and vintage photographs…

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