I Am Not Your Negro Screen 89 of 14 reviews

I Am Not Your Negro

2016

I Am Not Your Negro Poster
  • Raoul Peck takes an unfinished manuscript by civil rights icon James Baldwin and turns it into a grand, fractured, deeply personal contemplation of race and the USA. Baldwin was there, standing next to Martin Luther King, Malcom X and Medgar Evers, but he _survived_ the civil rights battles and a palpable sense of survivor’s guilt permeates every word. His pain is instructive; Baldwin’s signature refined rage leaps through time and smacks us right in the face.

  • ++

    Film Comment: Ashley Clark
    January 03, 2017 | January/February 2017 Issue (pp. 57-58)

    Granted access to the full Baldwin estate, Peck weaves together a dizzying portrait of the author and his ideas. The disparate material is bound together by narration from Samuel L. Jackson, who embodies Baldwin in hushed yet propulsive tones.

  • In some of the most striking passages, Peck implicitly connects The Devil Finds Work with the tradition of Marlon Riggs’s Ethnic Notions and Spike Lee’s Bamboozled, films that reimagine cinematic history as a site of racial excavation. Peck’s film sets out to make use of the unfinished manuscript of Remember This House, but it soon abandons this premise for the kind of emotional detours that give some of Baldwin’s best work its freewheeling, capacious spirit.

  • The filmmaker also cannily cites Baldwin’s remarkable writings about movies to illustrate the author’s overarching thesis, about the country’s tragic failure of consciousness; Peck’s references to current events reveal Baldwin’s view of history and his prophetic visions to be painfully accurate.

  • The film is a political statement and a deep look into the mind of James Baldwin, one of the 20th century's greatest writers and social critics. It is also an unusual and striking cinematic biography with a specific mission: to show America through the eyes of an African-American, scattering shreds of hope amid horror, exasperation and disgust.

  • Sometimes Peck isn’t subtle, nor should he be. Like Baldwin, he means to provoke, if not always in the same way. Baldwin’s touch was gentle even when he was taking no prisoners, and he was serious without being earnest. For the most part, so is “I Am Not Your Negro,” which, like a Baldwin essay, meanders, ever so slightly, while still staying generally on point.

  • Raoul Peck’s powerful James Baldwin documentary I Am Not Your Negro offered an urgent reminder of how little racial politics have changed in this country since the 1960s.

  • Oh, if James Baldwin were only here to write about Barack Obama and all the expectations his presidency has and hasn’t met. Oh, if James Baldwin were only here, period. Thanks to Peck’s film, Baldwin is briefly back with us again. And for that alone I Am Not Your Negro, which opens in New York and Los Angeles for a limited run early next month, ought to win a non-white Oscar.

  • A meditative cinematic essay on race, built around James Baldwin’s final unfinished work. By examining the lives and deaths of his friends Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King, and Malcolm X, Baldwin hoped to explore both the history and future of race in America. He may not have completed his work, but the film furthers his mission in poetic fashion.

  • Brilliantly edited, “I Am Not Your Negro” moves across time and space, seamlessly — insistently — sliding from the historical civil rights movement to more recent events, including Ferguson... Mr. Peck’s decision to use a lot of color images of the civil rights movement, rather than the more familiar black and white, is a particularly impressive formalist stroke because it closes the distance between past and present.

  • Since the narration of Negro consists solely of Baldwin quotes read aloud by Samuel L. Jackson (using, here, a gravelly register that’s the opposite of the Snakes on a Plane voice he uses to pay his kids’ college tuition), this means what’s good about the film is what’s good about reading Baldwin, which is to say an entire constellation.

  • Raoul Peck is such a poetic master of the medium that it's really only after completing I Am Not Your Negro that you realize it's an essay film you've been watching, and not a "documentary" per se. And while sometimes that sobriquet can be thrown around a bit sloppily (like "tone poem" or "character study"), its meaning could scarcely be more precise here. Using verbatim narration and found footage, Peck's film is essentially a posthumous reconstruction of James Baldwin's final book project.

  • Whenever Baldwin appears on camera in I Am Not Your Negro, the movie is electrifying, and the absence of context (we learn virtually nothing of Baldwin's life) seems irrelevant... But the conceit of structuring this film around Baldwin's unfinished manuscript requires Peck to find images to accompany the words (spoken with quiet fervor by Samuel L. Jackson), and he does a thuddingly literal job.

  • The Dreamed Ones is an altogether gutsier approach to “translating” a literary text to the screen than Raoul Peck’s I Am Not Your Negro, a thuddingly literal-minded interpretation of a text full of revolutionary fervor, James Baldwin’s unfinished 1979Remember This House

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