Movie Review: “I Am Not Your Negro”

I-Am-Not-Your-Negro-poster-2Springfield, MO—I had the honor to see this at the True/False film festival in Columbia and again at the Moxie in good old Springfield.  The simplest way that I can describe it is to share that after the Springfield screening a white woman approached me and said “We have made such a mess of things”…and then cried on my shoulder. First you should know that it is a documentary and seeing it twice didn’t make it any easier as the film maker sought to capture a 30 page manuscript that James Baldwin never finished about the state of the Negro in America.  Seeing it in Columbia allowed me to get some of the backstory about how the manuscript was being written to Mr. Baldwin’s publisher and his younger sister allowed the filmmaker to have it for the movie. James Baldwin is known to many older folks for his prolific and thought provoking writing and he doesn’t usually pull any punches.  The film is thoughtful, honest  and yes depressing.  He considers the lives of three prominent black men who attempted to improve the lives of black folks in the United States as in Martin Luther King, Jr. Malcom X and Medgar Evers and the impact it had on him It was very poignant to see these historic events through the words of James Baldwin and to gain insight into what he was doing at the time he learned of their  death.       You may or may not know that James Baldwin had moved to Paris to enjoy a better life style as a black man because Europe was considered to be less discriminatory and many artists had moved there at some point in their career.  James Baldwin shared that he decided to move back to the United States because he missed family and black culture.  The film does something very interesting and unique in that it only uses James Baldwin’s words the entire film which is narrated by Samuel Jackson. Now I want you to know if you decide to go that this is not a scripted film with actors and actresses and plots.  Rather it is clips and footage of earlier films, tv accounts and interviews that have been well put together to tell a story that is powerful and very telling about the black experience in the United States. Honestly, I didn’t know that James Baldwin had spoken out publicly about the racial climate in the United States so much and was so outspoken.  The film is important but it is also very difficult.  It is arranged in chapters which have some strong titles that need to be reckoned with.  This is part of the clever work that the film director utilized to share the story.  The film has been the recipient of many awards and honors. For those who don’t know these chapters of the history of black folks in the United States it is a lesson that must be studied.  If you remember or lived in these times well it serves as a painful reminder. But the greatest challenge of the film is that James Baldwin in words and through clips ask some troubling questions about the treatment of blacks in our nation and then you realize the title “”I am not your Negro!” And then the sobering reality hits….not that much has really changed.  This is why the lady cried and why you may cry or get mad too.  But with respect to Mr. Baldwin and those he writes about in this film we must hear and know their stories. I sat at the screen and stared when it was over.  It is that relevant and that hard hitting.  It becomes clear from the film that we are dealing with the same issues today and the deep societal issues have not yet been resolved and addressed and in some ways may be worse. The directing is excellent and to take the manuscript and do this was a master feat but the content of it speaks for itself.  It is not a pretty film or a happy one…..so be advised. 92 out of 100