Film Review: I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO (USA/Fr/Belg/Switz 2016) ***1/2

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iamnotyournego.jpgDirector: Raoul Peck
Writer: James Baldwin
Stars: Samuel L. Jackson, James Baldwin, Dick Cavett

Review by Gilbert Seah

The title of this new documentary immediately implies a film that would rock the boat in the topic of racism. It also implies an era when the ’n’ word was widely used before deemed inappropriate. The opening credits are done in black and white to emphasize the film’s seriousness.

I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO, by Raoul Peck attempts to reveal that the ‘negro’ thought understood by most Americans is in fact a stereotyped misunderstood one The doc is based on the unfinished book by James Baldwin (narrated by Samuel L.Jackson) and looks at the impressions made by 3 murdered negroes – Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. The three black men were killed roughly three years apart. As informed by the voiceover, these are three different men, each of whom have done so much for the people who have betrayed them.

The premise of the film is to tell the history of the black men as seen from the eyes of Medgar, Malcolm and Martin Luther as purported by a book that is to be written by James Baldwin. The book never got past 30 pages, due to Baldwin’s death. The film illustrates what happened and which truths have been revealed. The film gives the feel that director Peck wants his film to be as controversial as possible, hopefully to stir discussion on the topic of racism.

Peck spends screen time mourning the deaths of the three – with voiceover relating the details. He also mentions through Baldwin, that the Americans do not know what to do with the black population while the ‘nigger’ has never been happy in his place, just trying to survive in America. John Wayne and George Washington were the typical white men as perceived by a black person. Often he sees the piles of black men pile up. When the black stands up, he attacks the power structure of the entire world.

The film offers many arguments illustrated with many archive stills. The most interesting revelation of the film is the argument between King and Malcolm X – showing the two different approaches of dealing with black racism. The doc also includes rare clips of ‘negro’ old movies (WAY OUT, A RAISIN IN THE SUN, THE DEFIANT ONES, all with Sidney Poitier who appears in all the controversial movies) which were acceptable then but considered unacceptable now. Also shown are unforgettable scenes like one on on a bus with the segregation of black and white seating at the back and front of the bus respectively.

The film ends up successfully criticizing America from the black man’s point of view. It also riles up emotions of the black man with appropriate examples given. The film ends with the footage of the Rodney King beaten by white police – still a very disturbing scene to watch.

The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last year (with long line-ups), garnering praises together with other racial-themed films like MOONLIGHT, LOVING and A UNITED KINGDOM. The film has been nominated for the Best Documentary Oscar.



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