Monday, May 08, 2017
I Am Not Your Negro
In Raoul Peck's documentary, I Am Not Your Negro, Samuel L. Jackson reads the words of Baldwin, mostly from the notes on an unfinished book about Martin Luther King Jr., Medgar Evers, and Malcolm X. Baldwin died before it was finished, but he has a lot to say about all three men, all of whom he admired, even if King and Malcolm were initially at odds with each other.
Baldwin was born in Harlem, but left the U.S. to go France in 1948 to escape the constant discrimination. But when he saw the burgeoning civil rights movement taking shape under King and others, he returned and became an outspoken social critic, writing many books (perhaps most famously The Fire Next Time), giving lectures, and appearing on talks shows. There is footage of him appearing on The Dick Cavett Show, and some amazing footage, presumably from the early '60s, of a show featuring Baldwin, King, and Malcolm, and hosted by a black man.
Baldwin admits that he never hated white people--a schoolteacher he had who encouraged him was responsible for that, so he could never join the Black Panthers or the Nation of Islam. He concluded that white people behaved the way they did for reasons other than their skin color. He also concludes that black anger comes from rage--they would just like white people to get out of their way--while white anger stems from fear. White people, he says, brought black people from Africa and when they were done with them picking cotton they didn't know what to do with them.
Peck manages to make the film visually interesting, even though the whole thing is either footage of Baldwin or Jackson's voice-over. It makes me want to read Baldwin's works--sadly, I've read none of his books or plays.