Wednesday, April 12, 2017

I Am Not Your Negro…

I went to the Watershed yesterday to see Raoul Peck’s “I Am Not Your Negro”.
James 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.
Essentially, 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 Americans.
I’d seen a preview of the film and knew that it would be difficult viewing.
Most of 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 the case”.  
The film 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).
But, of 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 crimes.
Sadly, thirty years on, Baldwin’s words feel as urgent and as articulate as ever.
It’s a difficult, shocking, compelling and saddening film to watch, but I urge you to see it.

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