I Am Not Your Negro
Directed by Raoul Peck (2016)
This documentary is based on the unfinished manuscript of African American author James Baldwin’s book Remember This House. Narrated by actor Samuel L. Jackson (in the voice of Baldwin), the film explores the history of racism in the United States through Baldwin’s reminiscences of slain civil rights leaders Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr, as well as his personal observations of American history.
The film combines film footage of the Southern civil rights movement, the 1965 March on Washington, speeches by Malcolm X, Martin Luther King and Baldwin himself, along with clips from various Hollywood films depicting a stereotyped view of Black/White relations.
In his unfinished book, Baldwin describes leaving the US in 1948 to live in Paris, seeking to escape a constant fear of racial violence that hampered his writing. He returned to the US in the 1960s when the civil rights movement started. He felt motivated both by an obligation to support the struggle and a desire to reconnect with his family and the African American community.
For me, the most interesting part of the film is Baldwin’s insightful analysis of the white neuroticism that underlies racism. Baldwin describes a total separation between the public and private lives of white people. Because they are so terrified of their private selves, whites build elaborately phony public lives. Guilty and constricted, they sink into what Baldwin describes as “moral apathy.” Incapable of seeing beyond their own selfish needs, they find it easier to project the ugliness they sense in themselves on a convenient scapegoat (ie African Americans).
Baldwin makes the point repeatedly that white violence against Blacks is just as prevalent in the North as the South.
The film includes footage of explosive debates in which Baldwin directly confronts white critics who chide him for being too bitter and too focused on race.
It also makes reference an argument Baldwin had with Bobby Kennedy over his unwillingness to use troops to escort a Black teenager (to prevent an angry mob of white adults from cursing, threatening, jeering and spitting on her) on her first day at an all white high school. Kennedy declined to send troops, dismissing the deployment as “an empty moral gesture.”
The film can’t be embedded for copyright reasons but can be viewed free at the Maori TV website: