Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Movie Review: "I Am Not Your Negro" (2016)

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Director: Raoul Peck
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 1 hour, 33 minutes

Prolific writer and activist James Baldwin speaks of his American experience through the lives of three murdered friends: Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 

"I Am Not Your Negro" is a documentary feature directed by Raoul Peck. The film is written by the late James Baldwin, taken from the 30-pages or so of notes for his unfinished novel "Remember This House." It is narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, who reads from Baldwin's notes about key civil rights figures and friends of his, Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., all of whom were murdered. The film also uses many existing television interviews with Baldwin himself, as well as a slew of clips from movies throughout history to make Baldwin's points abundantly clear about racism in America. The film juxtaposes the fight for civil rights during the 1960's against segregation with the current social issues going on in our society today.

We didn't really know much about James Baldwin prior to seeing this film. Having heard his words flow from page to screen, we can attest to the fact that he is an eloquent speaker with some really brilliant ideas. Much of this movie relies on hearing him speak his work explained in various television interviews and excerpts, and we were captivated by how it was relevant then and still so relevant now. Baldwin draws many parallels between the film industry and society in general as what we see expressed on screen is a strong reflection of what happens in everyday life and the world we face every day.

It is heartbreaking to watch the ways many of our countrymen and women were and are still treated simply based on their appearance. It is a shameful part of American history. No one should be proud of a heritage of oppression. We can't help but think that though things have gotten better, we still have a lot of room for improvement, especially when reading the news now as daily occurrences of hate crimes seem to be plaguing the United States in an uptick of aggression towards the perceived "other," including anger and violence. It is tragic that there are still people today who spew hate and fight to keep people down and then use their faith as an excuse for their personal bigotry. This is a point James Baldwin made during the civil rights movement as many claimed miscegenation was against the will of God. His point was that it's a hypocritical stance as Christ came to spread love not hate.

"I Am Not Your Negro" is a well put together film complete with some extraordinary voice-over work by Samuel L. Jackson. The way director Raoul Peck frames this story and divides it up into several moving parts in a non-traditional format only serves to make this a unique and interesting film. The entire thing winds up being a very powerful, profound documentary that brought us to tears on more than one occasion hearing the stories of those who fought so hard for justice only to be killed way too soon. It makes us wonder if there will ever be a time when Americans can truly look past their differences and just treat each other with respect. According to Baldwin, it's going to take some revolutionary shifts to do so, but he does believe it is possible if we look within ourselves at the deeper root of the issues we have faced and still do face today.

My Rating: 9/10
BigJ's Rating: 9/10
IMDB's Rating: ~6.9/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: ~98%
Do we recommend this movie: ABSOLUTELY YES!!!

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