While civil rights, racial oppression, and the evils of majoritarianism are always prescient and incredibly pertinent topics – more now than every before – they risk appearing blasé in lesser hands. It’s therefore to the credit of Haitian filmmaker and political activist Raoul Peck’s gumption and ability that he managed to create something both vital and arresting in his defiantly polemical documentary I Am Not Your Negro; that he did that by adapting – and also using it as a springboard – James Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript for Remember This House (along with his notes and letters), made the task even more onerous and the ensuing result that much more remarkable. Baldwin had intended the book to be a memoir on his friendship with civil rights icons Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Medgar Evers – three incredibly different individuals who all were pathbreaking leaders, and tragically, they were all assassinated within 5 years of one another – and in turn wider analyses on the history of perpetuation and myriad manifestation of racism in America. Narrated by Samuel L. Jackson with atypical calm – and yet expressing a wide range of emotions through the subtlest of tonal inflections and cadences – this was a densely packed work filled with television reels and film footage. The speeches, interviews and debates featuring Baldwin himself – alternately angry, edgy, cynical, mournful and reflective – were especially powerful, and they strikingly accompanied the elegiac voiceover reminiscing on the three men, their ideas, his own experiences, and what it means to be black in the US. And these were juxtaposed with sequences from a multitude of famous movies that’ve mirrored societal hypocrisies and prejudices, which added interesting dimensions to it.
Director: Raoul Peck