Review / ‘I Am Not Your Negro’ (M) ****

FOR this multi-award-winning documentary, Haiti-born Raoul Peck drew on the 30 pages of “Remember This House” that James Baldwin actually finished writing before his death.

And it’s a 94-minute cracker of a movie, crammed with social history depicted in media of every kind created by whites who thought their view of racial issues in the US was sympathetic toward the non-white population.

Built out of archival footage in every medium – movies, newspaper reports, TV and radio series, print and electronic media advertising – and narrated by actor Samuel L Jackson, it resurrects three black activists who each died from an assassin’s bullet – Malcolm X, Medgar Evers and Martin Luther King.

A shocker constructed around talking heads, most notably that of Evers delivering not oratory but a black man’s informed explanation of the real attitudes of black people, interspersed with the archival material, the result may be selective but its effectiveness is unarguable. While things may have apparently changed in the half-century since the three men’s deaths, underlying issues still fester.

Many of the main icons of the civil rights conflict are absent from the film. Visual images of “Strange Fruit” take the place of Billie Holiday’s recording of Abel Meeropol’s tragic song. Clips from movies demonstrate the shallowness of Hollywood’s treatment in films directed by famous white directors. Black filmmakers aren’t represented because in the 1960s there were none. The list goes on.

Documentaries aren’t generally regarded as front-line cinema entertainment. This one breaks that rule. Watching it reminded me of the late, wonderful Les Blank whose docos were at the forefront of that rule-breaking. I think he’d have found much to praise here.

At Palace Electric, Capitol 6, Dendy


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