I Am Not Your Negro Screen 95 of 31 reviews

I Am Not Your Negro

2016

I Am Not Your Negro Poster
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    Sight & Sound: Violet Lucca
    March 31, 2017 | May 2017 Issue (pp. 80-81)

    More than simply weaving together Baldwin's thoughts in an incisive, poetic way, what makes Peck's film truly remarkable is how it repeatedly connects the writer's thoughts not just to the present but to all of American history and its visual culture.

  • A densely-layered work, weaving through multiple layers of history and personal experience, and the cinéaste makes ample use of fascinating archival footage showing Baldwin’s incendiary interventions in American television in the 1960s and 1970s. For me, however, the most stimulating aspect of the film centered on Baldwin’s recollections of being a young black boy voraciously watching classical Hollywood cinema in the 1930s...

  • Nothing breaks the spell cast by James Baldwin in Raoul Peck’s I Am Not Your Negro. One of the things that makes Peck’s documentary so intense as a portrait of Baldwin, the engaged black writer, is that there are no talking heads, no one else making judgments or telling anecdotes about him or what he did. This is his public self, yet somehow deeply personal.

  • In an era where allyship and integration still can be performative, Baldwin’s observations haven’t wrinkled. Nor has the bulk of I Am Not Your Negro’s text.

  • The film centers on the writings of legendary theorist James Baldwin, specifically his writing on film and the lives of his friends, the murdered activists Malcolm X, Medgar Evers and Martin Luther King, Jr., which he prepared for a book that was never realized. This documentary is that realization, and it's suitably electric. Samuel L. Jackson, giving his best performance, reads Baldwin's words among archival footage of Baldwin and his subjects, and of contemporary New York.

  • Through a combination of film clips of Baldwin and Samuel L. Jackson voicing Baldwin’s words from his unfinished book, Peck cogently resurrects Baldwin’s personality and vibrant intellect, showing his words to be not only powerful, but also prophetic... I have watched this film three times and am still not done with it.

  • Even though Baldwin truly believes that “people in general cannot bear too much reality,” I Am Not Your Negro challenges the audience to recognize our nation’s scars are actually still gaping wounds that need to be triaged with discourse and empathy in order to combat the type of moral gerrymandering that divides communities and instills fear.

  • Nearly every word Baldwin utters, in his writings (read by Samuel L. Jackson) and in his interviews, seems readymade for today’s world. I Am Not Your Negro resurrects Baldwin so he can analyze our times, but sadly his words need no updating. This is largely due to the timelessness of Baldwin’s observations and wisdom, and the continuity of racial hate and oppression, but much credit is due to Peck’s masterful editing and vision.

  • It’s Baldwin’s voice—his luminescent words describing and analyzing dark matters—that ties together Peck’s film, which is about many things, including the writer’s relationship to racial politics and the fantastic yet undermining power of the cinema’s racially defined images. One of the chief pleasures of the movie is watching Baldwin appear on talk shows and in public forums: he had an extraordinary physical presence, of a piece with his singular mind.

  • If the role of the public intellectual is to speak truth to power, then James Baldwin was one of the greatest America ever produced. A searing and compassionate social critic, he was equally penetrating when he turned his novelist's gaze toward film, as this galvanizing, heartbreaking essay/documentary by Raoul Peck demonstrates.

  • I Am Not Your Negro reminds us that a critic’s job is to, in a sense, write formulas. In diagnosing a widespread, deeply ingrained problem, Baldwin was writing the formula for a nation in decline... Peck’s film reminds us that even though he is no longer with us, he’s still talking to us about what’s going on.

  • There are no talking heads, no linear story lines for us to grab hold of. The truth of the film, the essence of the filmmaking, is in how these contending visions complement and cut against each other. It is associative: It follows the logic of thought and image. The result is to make Baldwin’s language feel, somehow, more alive. I’ve seen the film twice, several months apart, and each time I was taken aback by the freshness of Baldwin’s thinking.

  • From television interviews, clips from Hollywood’s still jarring racial history, to more recent scenes of the militarized responses to protests of police violence in Ferguson, Baltimore, and elsewhere, Peck makes chilling connections between America’s now and then. I remain compelled by the treatment of Counts in Peck’s new documentary not only because of the grace and impossible courage required of a girl so young, but because of what it confirms about this young experiment called America.

  • An exemplary and moving film-essay that draws on James Baldwin’s life and writings—mainly his unfinished manuscript Remember This House, a reminiscence of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, and his book on American movies, The Devil Finds Work.

  • Author James Baldwin's testament to race-based inequality and misunderstood cultural history forms a searing lens of incontrovertible clarity in I Am Not Your Negro... By arranging U.S. history as entirely tainted and polluted by the cancerous stench of racism, I Am Not Your Negro makes no concessions about its dissatisfaction with the whole rotten lot of so-called western democracy.

  • There is a moment in I Am Not Your Negro, Raoul Peck’s masterfully eloquent living essay on race and America, when its subject/speaker/agonist James Baldwin decries how whites allow themselves to become “moral monsters” through unexamined bigotry... Baldwin in this film conveys the very opposite of those words: appearing in riveting archival appearances and through an interior voiceover of readings delivered by Samuel L. Jackson, he is a bona fide hero.

  • A documentary feat that draws much of its complexity from corralling the all-too-obscure history of race in the United States. A brilliant translator of this narrative, Haitian filmmaker and activist Raoul Peck adapts the unfinished, final novel by James Baldwin—provisionally titled Remember This House—as a framing device to unpack broader issues of power and privilege.

  • 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.

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    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 1979 Remember This House

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