In 1979, the late James Baldwin began writing a memoir of his friendship with Civil Rights icons Medgar Evers, Malcom X, and Martin Luther King, Jr. He put the manuscript aside after only thirty pages, and it remains unfinished—at least in book form. Raoul Peck’s riveting documentary, I Am Not Your Negro, brings these recollections to life in ways the author might never have imagined. While bold jazz plays over lush, high-def archival images and in-your-face title cards, Samuel L. Jackson narrates as Baldwin in a frail, almost resigned voice that seems to reprimand our still-broken society from beyond the grave. Peck expertly chronicles the African-American plight, but underplays his subject’s tenuous hope, nearly turning the film into an artfully rendered list of grievances. By the end, I Am Not Your Negro becomes an urgent and eloquent call to understanding, giving viewers authorship over the next chapter in Baldwin's story.
Listen to Kicking the Seat Podcast #197 for an in-depth discussion of I Am Not Your Negro, and two other Oscar-nominated documentaries, with Ian and HollywoodChicago.com's Patrick "The Über Critic" McDonald!