Raoul Peck’s I Am Not Your Negro premiered at TIFF on September 10. Although bigger budget productions surrounding African American history like Nate Parker’s Birth of a Nation or Barry Jenkin’s Moonlight seemingly overshadow this film, it is well worth watching.
The film is largely based on James Baldwin’s unfinished book Remember This House, an ambitious text wherein Baldwin writes about the lives and assassinations of three great men: Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., and Medgar Evers. The book explores their lives and how they have had a permanent effect on the sociopolitical landscape of America.
The film features his unfinished manuscript narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, with various clips of Baldwin in lectures and on talk shows; Baldwin’s work is only done justice when you can hear him speak.
The film examines America’s history of racial oppression and violence and examines how the country handles racial conflict. Peck shows the footage of past civil rights and Black Power leaders, as well as modern footage of Black Lives Matter, relating historical movements with those of modern day.
Peck uses music to form a connection between the present and the past. A score of predominantly jazz and blues works ends with Kendrick Lamar’s “The Blacker the Berry” during the credits. This progressive arrangement of Black musical genres marries the film’s theme of a current social climate that is reflective of the past.
I Am Not Your Negro is as compelling as it is informative, as eloquent as it is emotional. Peck’s ambition as a filmmaker is clear in this work. He uses the words of celebrated author and social critic Baldwin to connect the past, present, and future, offering a potent look at the history of what it means to be Black in America.