I Am Not Your Negro is a documentary directed by Raoul Peck that tells a story of race in America through the unfinished James Baldwin novel, Remember This House. All the narration comes from Baldwin’s novel, and is read by Samuel L. Jackson. Critics and viewers seem to agree that I Am Not Your Negro is a timely look at racial tensions in America.
The New York Times film critic A.O. Scott promises that whatever your views on race, “this movie will make you think again” in his review. The film has been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature Film, the Directors Guild of America has nominated Raoul Peck for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Documentary, the Independent Spirit Awards has nominated the film for best Best Documentary and the film has received a host of other nominations and awards. The documentary is produced by Magnolia Pictures.
This film appears at a particularly prescient moment in American history: our first Black president has just left office, and in his wake have come some newly-emboldened “nationalists” that some may even call white supremacists. I Am Not Your Negro seems, in fact, tailor-made for this time, showing us how far we still have to go in regards to race and what American identity means today. The film also shows us Black leaders in a personal, intimate way that many of us who did not live through the 1950s and 1960s did not experience.
James Baldwin’s unfinished novel deals primarily with Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., all of whom Baldwin knew quite well. Baldwin’s book was left unfinished when he died in 1987. Other materials are taken from his journals and various remaining works. These sketches and thoughts on the lives and deaths of these men make up all of the narration for the film, and the overall effect proves to be very powerful. The documentary relies heavily on plenty of footage of James Baldwin from talk shows and other appearances showing a decidedly different America, but sadly, one that is not that different in ways that truly matter.
I Am Not Your Negro opened on February 3rd in limited release in select theaters. With stellar reviews from The New York Times, the A.V. Club, a 99% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and an Academy Award nomination, I Am Not Your Negro is sure to shake up America’s thinking about race this winter.