“White is a metaphor for power”.
From its opening credits to the close, viewers of I Am Not Your Negro would be forgiven for feeling like being at the end of an LAPD police baton; mercilessly and repeatedly thrashed.
I Am Not Your Negro tells the story, not of black America, but of America; its struggle for identity and for reconciliation, its obsession with oppression and eradication. Written from the notes of James Baldwin, who is represented throughout in archival footage, the film’s sole ambition is to hold a mirror up to White America as if to say, “This is what you have created, now fix it.” The film’s pace is frantic and fast, rightly sacrificing subtle, patient explanation to increase the urgency of the issue. There is only a mirror. And the reflection of a divided and violent America is repulsive.
Holding our hand through this journey of national soul-searching is Samuel L. Jackson. Playing the role of narrative tour guide, Jackson’s poetic articulation of Baldwin’s analysis offers some answers but also waits for the solution.
This film successfully presents an incredibly original and consequently impactful means of telling the story of a divided America. Both 13th and O.J.: Made in America also make notable and very respectable attempts, and although the film does not have the seven-and-a-half-hour running time luxury of the latter, it still manages to couch everything that is relevant in America today with the messages that black people have been repeating for over 400 years.
I Am Not Your Negro is the slap in the face America deserves: potent, vile and tough. Gazing over the plethora of these socially provocative films to see President Trump in the Oval Office, however, one can’t help wonder if anyone is listening.
CAST: Samuel L. Jackson, James Baldwin, Dick Cavett
DIRECTOR: Raoul Peck
WRITER: James Baldwin
SYNOPSIS: Writer James Baldwin tells the story of race in modern America with his unfinished novel, Remember This House.