I Am Not Your Negro (2017) Review

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Keeva Stratton

Film Expert

This thought-provoking film challenges the lens through which racial politics in America has been viewed and reinforced. It offers the audience the chance to see the world through the eyes of academic and activist, James Baldwin, thanks to the words of his unfinished book ‘Remember This House’ and a stirring narration by Samuel L Jackson.

negroimage via youtube

James Baldwin was an African-American scholar, whose moment in history saw him experience the political uprisings of Malcom X, Martin Luther King and Medgar Evers. While these revolutionary figures shared the same aim—racial equality—they also believed in very different methods of achieving it. Each would also have their lives taken from them, as a result of raising their voice.

Baldwin, who left America in 1948 to live and work in France before returning during the heated 1960s, in a letter to his publisher was able to articulate the hurt, frustration and rage that was the result of 400 years of slavery, segregation and racial oppression, both eloquently and fiercely.

Contrasted against the prosperity of white America post WWII, the nature of this stark, inexplicable oppression, violence and hatred, dished daily on the black population, is chilling to witness.

How could this be? And, why would any human wish to treat another with such inhumanity? Scenes of young girls being spat upon as they attempt to enter their school, are inexplicable in their horror. In Baldwin’s academic view the segregation can only be explained by fear; not of black people per se, but of losing the power the white population enjoyed through the prosperity derived from cheap labour, servitude and political dominance.

Baldwin looks at the representation of race, in cinema, television and advertising, to reveal the grotesque stereotypes that were normalised through popular culture. Even though many of the images have been shown and analysed before, they still shock.

He cleverly draws binaries between the celebratory coverage of the ‘white’ fights for liberty, in the form of the Irish and Israeli uprisings, to the same words being spoken by figures such as Martin Luther King—why was one seen as a fight for liberty, and another laced with criminal intent?

Baldwin also highlights the irony of Robert Kennedy telling the world that in 40 years a black man may one day be president. How could Kennedy, a second-generation Irish migrant, not see the condescension in a newly arrived citizen telling a 400-year-old citizenry that it could one day hope to enjoy that which his people had already.

This film is intensely powerful, and it makes you think. They are not easy thoughts, and the answers aren’t immediate, but the act of contemplation feels at least a small step in the right direction. Watching this film in the context of Australia, as a white female, with little first-hand experience, it all seems unimaginable and horrific.

But, history often is difficult to confront. Harder still is that this is very much a history that is still being lived. From Ferguson in the US, to the juvenile justice centres here in Australia, racial oppression is still very real. In the over-representation of the incarceration of Indigenous Australians, it is undeniable.

While this is an intellectual film, and a very discomfiting one, it is a film that all should experience. It’s an eye-opener, and it’s brilliantly piercing.

video via youtube

Director: Raoul Peck

Stars: Samuel L. Jackson, James Baldwin,

Runtime: 1hr 33mins

Release Date: Sept 14

Rating: M

Reviewer Rating: 4.5/5

 

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