May 23, 2024

Gabbing Geek

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Geek Review: I Am Not Your Negro

A sobering documentary, based on the work of James Baldwin, on race in America.

Sometimes, a documentary comes along that tries to give the viewer a wake-up call, something to show them injustice or problems that aren’t going away and maybe can’t, but problems the viewer should know about all the same.

Last night I saw one such documentary, director Raoul Peck’s I Am Not Your Negro.

The film is based on some writing done by the late African American author James Baldwin.  Baldwin sat down in 1979 thinking he would write a book about his own relationships with Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and Medgar Evers.  Baldwin never got done more than 30 pages of the project, but those words, as read by Samuel L. Jackson in the movie, are eloquent and moving, an examination of what it means to be black in America as well as the complex way that Baldwin viewed race in America.

The movie pulls absolutely no punches, particularly in how Peck frames current and past events to the issues Baldwin talks about.  Blatantly racist vintage ads are shown, but lest the audience think the problem of racism somehow went away, Peck laces in images of white politicians from both parties making apologies of questionable sincerity, Black Lives Matter protests, images of young African Americans killed by violence, shooting sprees, and older images that include Native American massacres and old movies showing impossibly idealized (and largely white) lifestyles.  Baldwin’s critique extends to white liberals who maybe mean well but don’t know just how bad the problems are, and it’s obvious Peck is holding up a mirror to our society.  Yes, perhaps things have changed, but that doesn’t mean America’s institutional racism problems have been defeated once and for all.

Nine out of ten sobering moments.