When James Baldwin passed away in 1987, he left behind an unfinished book entitled, Remember This House. The book focused on the lives and deaths of three figures in history and friends of Baldwin: Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. and Medgar Evers, which Raoul Peck used to form the documentary, I Am Not Your Negro.
In addition to Baldwin’s own words, Peck’s documentary weaves together footage of Baldwin speaking, video from the Black Lives Matter movement and protests, photographs and video from the Civil Rights Movement, and clips from old movies in order to draw together Baldwin’s various points on race relations and his friends, King, Evers, and Malcolm X.
From growing up in Harlem, to moving to France, and coming back to America to fight for Civil Rights, Baldwin saw and participated many different things during his short lifetime. His literature covered everything from his childhood, to race and sexuality. His voice – powerful and to the point – was strong enough to make you want to make a change.
While watching I Am Not Your Negro, I felt everything from awe to despair. I not only cried, but my heart swelled with hope. Hearing clips of Baldwin speaking, debating, and educating not only inspired me, but it encouraged me to to speak up. Baldwin’s way of talking to people challenged them and their way of thinking. While listening to him, you have to really pay attention, because every word he uses is important to his overall point. The documentary pulls together a series of valid points that Baldwin has made about race in this country and it is surprising and disheartening how true and relevant they are today.
The documentary ends with this quote:
I can’t be a pessimist because I’m alive. To be a pessimist means that you have agreed that human life is an academic matter, so I’m forced to be an optimist. I’m forced to believe that we can survive whatever we must survive. But the future of the Negro in this country is precisely as bright or as dark as the future of the country. It is entirely up to the American people and our representatives — it is entirely up to the American people whether or not they are going to face, and deal with, and embrace this stranger whom they maligned so long.
Peck’s documentary teaches us – through James Baldwin, the power of words, the need for change, and the duty of the American people. Everyone needs to see I Am Not Your Negro, which is nominated for an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature.
All images courtesy of Biography.com