In 1979, James Baldwin wrote a letter to his literary agent describing his new endeavour: the writing of his final book, Remember This House, recounting the lives and successive assassinations of his friends Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Baldwin was not able to complete the book before his death, and the unfinished manuscript was entrusted to director Raoul Peck (Moloch Tropical, Murder in Pacot) by the writer’s estate.
Built exclusively around Baldwin’s words, Peck’s I Am Not Your Negro delves into the complex legacy of three lives (and deaths) that permanently marked the US social and political landscape. Framing the unfinished work as a radical narration about race in the United States, Peck matches Baldwin’s lyrical rhetoric with rich archival footage of the Civil Rights and Black Power movements, and connects these historical struggles for justice and equality to the present-day movements that have taken shape in response to the killings of young African American men including Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, and Amir Brooks.
Exploring what it means to be Black in the United States today, Peck reflects on the legacy of racial violence that continues to permeate the country. In Baldwin’s words, “You cannot lynch me and keep me in ghettos without becoming something monstrous yourselves. And furthermore, you give me a terrifying advantage: you never had to look at me; I had to look at you. I know more about you than you know about me. Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” By revealing the deep connections between past and present injustice, I Am Not Your Negro weaves an epic narrative about the States’, and by extension North America’s, irrational relationship with skin colour — a relationship that would be absurd were it not so tragic.
Official Selection, 2016 Toronto International Film Festival