'I Am Not Your Negro', in Wide Release Today, Is Endlessly Relevant and Particularly Urgent

James Baldwin in I Am Not Your Negro (2016)

As this documentary presents James Baldwin's resistance, we might now take heart in it and also borrow from it.

I Am Not Your Negro

Director: Raoul Peck
Cast: Samuel Jackson (narrator)
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
Year: 2016

“Look at my African American.” It's a good bet that Donald Trump, who infamously made this assertion about a crowd member during his campaign last year, has not read James Baldwin. But James Baldwin has read him, which is to say, Baldwin knew and anticipated men like Trump, understood their fears and their needs.

Raoul Peck's brilliant documentary -- nominated for a Best Feature Documentary Academy Award -- reminds the rest of us how much, how deeply and how incisively, Baldwin knew and anticipated, how well he read his world and how elegantly he wrote about that world. As the documentary presents Baldwin's resistance, we might now take heart in it and also borrow from it.

Built on Baldwin’s unfinished project, “Remember This House”, a meditation on the intertwining legacies of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr., and also on the nature of memory itself, the documentary pulls together strands of history and struggle, strength and tragedy, including bits of Baldwin's prose read by Samuel L. Jackson as well as resonant archival footage and recent images, showing survivors and fighters.

As much as it thinks through memory, I Am Not Your Negro is insistently forward-looking, heartening and galvanizing, an urgent call to action.

See PopMatters' review.

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