I went to the Watershed yesterday to see Raoul Peck’s “I Am Not Your Negro”.
Baldwin (1924-1987) was an American novelist, essayist, playwright, poet, and social
critic… frequently exploring racial, sexual and class distinctions in Western
societies, most notably in mid-20th-century America.
this is a documentary envisioning a book that Baldwin never finished. He left
behind just 30 completed pages of a manuscript about the lives of three of his
close friends – Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. The
resulting film is a radical view of race in America today – using Baldwin’s
original words (narrated by Samuel L Jackson) and a mass of archival material
(including Baldwin participating in various studio discussions and also at a
Cambridge Union debate in 1965). Again and again, Baldwin criticises the romantic
perception of the “American Dream” and it has adversely affected African
I’d seen a preview of the film and
knew that it would be difficult viewing.
us are well aware of seeing footage of some of the horrific, vicious, racist
scenes from the 1950s and 60s – including shameful scenes of police violence, the
frightening, humiliating, anti-black protests by whites and a reminder of an
awful time in the USA when white and black were segregated. Director Raoul
Peck, in the Watershed’s programme notes, said this: “Because there were some
victories with the Civil Right’s Movement - we have Martin Luther King day, we
have Black History Month - most people think everything is good now, we’ve
solved all of the problems. We have monuments; we have museums. But, that’s not
represents a timely, powerful challenge to the definition of what America
stands for today – especially in the light of relatively recent
#BlackLivesMatter ‘incidents’ and since President Trump’s inauguration (and his
various comments during the presidential campaign).
course, sections of America aren’t alone in adopting such intolerant attitudes…
in Europe, we have the migrant crisis (amongst other things) and here in the UK,
after the depressing Brexit vote, we have seen an alarming rise in reported hate
Sadly, thirty years on, Baldwin’s
words feel as urgent and as articulate as ever.
difficult, shocking, compelling and saddening film to watch, but I urge you to see it.
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