DMovies - Your platform for thought-provoking cinema

I am not your Negro

Director - Raoul Peck - 2017

"Filthy genius movie"
Yes, it's that black and white: the future of the US will only be as bright or as dark as the future of the negroes - provocative doc about James Baldwin wakes up the beast of racism

That inconvenient nigger is here to wreak havoc to your shady American freedom – I am not your Negro is a very provocative piece that uses incendiary language in order to inflame a deeply unequal, biased, hypocritical and racist society: the United States of America. The film will burst every myth of racial equality and democracy in the most powerful country in the world, and it’s an indispensable watch to all nationalities, races and creeds. Needless to say, the movie has acquired an extra dimension and significance since the toxic wave of reactionary politics brought in by Donald Trump swallowed the nation.

This documentary film by Raoul Peck is based on James Baldwin’s (pictured above) unfinished manuscript Remember This House and narrated by actor Samuel L. Jackson. It explores the history of racism in the US through Baldwin’s memories of civil rights leaders Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr, as well as their tragic and untimely death.

By the means of historical interviews, footage and photographs, Peck creates a poignant portrait of racism in the US, revealing that equality has always been but an illusion. He also uses excerpts from historical movies with racist content such as Uncle Tom’s Boat (Harry A. Pollard, 1927) and Stagecoach (John Ford, 1939) as well as films that deal with the subject of racism, such as Imitation of Life (John M. Stahl, 1934) and The Defiant Ones (Stanley Kramer, 1958). Many activists disliked the latter for its complacent tone: Sidney Poitier’s character reconciles with his white nemesis despite the oppression he suffered. Incidentally, the legendary black actor turned 90 yesterday.

iamnotyournegro800
It’s that black and white: the US are a racist nation!

But it’s the clever montage that makes I am not your Negro so provocative and explosive. The director cleverly contrasts a 1960 US government advert promoting “freedom” against images of police oppression made at the same time. If the film was made now, Peck would probably contrast Donald Trump’s ridiculous America First speech – which the entire world has been mocking – against the Ferguson riots. In another key moment, the director boldly claims that “America is not the land of the free, but it’s sometimes the land of the brave”, followed by images from Gus Van Sant’s Elephant (2003). In other words, America’s braveness expresses itself through a school massacre. Finally, he places images of a jolly Doris Day prancing around against Black people hung in trees – the significance of this montage does not require a written description.

James Baldwin’s vigour and intelligence help to sustain what’s already a very convincing piece of documentary-making. The unapologetic, unabashed and confrontational demeanour of late American novelist, essayist, playwright, poet, and social critic is a leitmotif in the film, as well as in the history of the US. He has no qualms at challenging the establishment, and the director supports him in his courageous endeavour. Quotes and titles appear throughout the movie on a black and white screen, with a twist of red. It’s almost as if both the writer and the filmmaker were saying: “yes, it’s that black and white: the US is a racist society. Now move your ass and do something about it“.

I am not your Negro was directed by Haitian filmmaker Raoul Peck, and the nationality of the director here is very significant. Haiti saw the most successful anti-slavery and anti-colonial insurrection in the Americas, shortly after American Independence. The event shocked the US, which responded with continuous repression and boycotting of the newly-formed democracy. This theme is not addressed in the movie, but the irony of history is pervasive to those who know the origin of the filmmaker and a little bit about Haiti’s history.

This piece was originally published during the Human Rights Watch Film Festival, when the film premiered in the UK. It is out in cinemas on Friday, April 7th.

In the meantime, don’t forget to watch the film trailer:



"Filthy genius movie"

By Victor Fraga - 03-03-2017

By Victor Fraga - 03-03-2017

Victor Fraga is a Brazilian born and London-based writer with more than 15 years of involveme...

DMovies Poll

Do/would you go to the cinema in order to watch documentaries?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Most Read

François Ozon probably doesn’t get much sleep. At [Read More...]
Pigs might fly. And so Brexit might happen. [Read More...]
Forget Friday the 13th, Paranormal Activity and the [Read More...]
Perhaps no other 20th century artist has captured [Read More...]
Time flies by! DMovies was launched in February [Read More...]
American novelist Dennis Cooper’s cinematic debut feels like [Read More...]

Read More

Driftwood

Paul Taylor
2017

Maysa Monção - 22-11-2017

Words are very unnecessary! Older man and younger woman have silent, enigmatic and subversive relationship in this eerie chamber tale - now on VoD [Read More...]

Lost in Paris (Paris Pieds Nus)

Dominique Abel/ Fiona Gordon
2017

Alasdair Bayman - 22-11-2017

Belgian-Australian duo direct and star in lighthearted comedy about our inner need to share beautiful moments, also featuring the late Emmanuelle Riva - in cinemas [Read More...]

Beach Rats

Eliza Hittman
2017

Victor Fraga - 21-11-2017

Not your average coming-out tale! Movie about teen juggling his homosexual inclinations against a heteronormative circle of friends in Brooklyn is both moving and gently disturbing - in cinemas [Read More...]

Facebook Comment

Website Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *