For Reel


I Am Not Your Negro (2016)
April 23, 2017, 3:23 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Raoul Peck
5 Stars
I Am Not Your NegroRaoul Peck’s staggering documentary I Am Not Your Negro often cuts to modern examples of racial intolerance (including the protests of police violence in Ferguson) as a means of demonstrating what little has changed since the film’s subject was observing a culture’s willful ignorance of its own misgivings forty years ago. These scenes, however, are scarcely needed—James Baldwin’s prophetic discussions of American race relations are as present and topical as they were then, and no aid is needed it making that explicitly clear. Late in the film, Robert Kennedy’s claim that in forty years time it is conceivable that a black man can become president is met by Baldwin’s scathing indictment that it is something that needs to be said in the first place: (he mocks) “In forty years (if you’re good), we may let you become president.” Many of Baldwin’s arguments come in the form of his film criticism—he suggests that stars such as Doris Day epitomize the infantilism of the public, one of many factors contributing to their failure to achieve true awareness. The cumulative effect of the film is undoubtedly unsettling, but it is also beautiful in the way it allows Baldwin a posthumous vehicle to speak directly to the viewer. That is, Peck doesn’t intend for the viewer to understand Baldwin through biography, but rather as if they were having a conversation with him.

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