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Friday, May 5, 2017

"I Am Not Your Negro" the song remains the same

I Am Not Your Negro

The story of the negro in America is the story of America. It is not a pretty story.” And you only need seconds to realize this is not going to be an average, entertaining yet easily forgettable movie. By no means.

I Am Not Your Negro’ is based on ‘Remember This House’, an unfinished project the GREAT James Baldwin began in 1979, where he wanted to trace a personal journey & account of the lives and murders of three beloved friends of him and fundamental African-American civil rights activists (and political leaders & social icons) Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. Unfortunately, when the masterful writer died in 1987 the manuscript was still merely started (only thirty completed pages). Luckily, filmmaker Raoul Peck found there was a story to be told, to be completed. A story so important and powerful today as it was when Baldwin envisioned his work.

I Am Not Your Negro’ is a fascinating piece from every point of view. First, as a documentary itself, it’s just surprising how much, considering the little stuff Peck had initially, there’s to say. It’s not really the somewhat expected historical reconstruction, rich on archival material, but the ability of the director to grasp and build the connections within the film and propel it into today. From slavery to John Wayne or Doris Day movies (oh, the lies we told kids that become fantasies that become political slogans that turn into idiotic policies, now let’s build a wall). From criminally offensive advertising and insufferable injustice to Martin, Malcolm and Medgar to Watts riots. From ultra-dumb reality shows to the latest Ferguson riots caused by the despicable police violence. Here’s why #BlackLivesMatter. ‘I Am Not Your Negroexamines race relations in a very scary country. Because what this film shows is that America really stands for doesn’t have much to do with the "land of the free", but with the "kingdom of fear" forged by white Middle America. You know the guy who now runs the oval office? Enough said...

Second, because of its starring, involuntary main character. It’s Baldwin’s figure, powerful and delicate, pessimistic and hurt, even broken (the TV interviews reveal a human being so passionate and afflicted it is absolutely compelling), but always bright and lucid, who steals the show. And, needless to say, his words, hauntingly performed (not just spoken) by Samuel L. Jackson in the film, both his writings as well as the fragments of the aforementioned interviews, are not just the brilliant account of his times and the struggles suffered during the country ancient & recent past by a essential part of America’s population, cornered, left behind, oppressed and humiliated by their fellow Americans. They are, sadly, prophetic, revealing, enduring. The wounds are still open and bleeding.

I Am Not Your Negro’ is not an easy film. Obviously because of the subject addressed. But also because Peck/Baldwin have things to show and say, and they are keen to sacrifice the rhythm sometimes, as well as, more importantly, they are willing to respect the viewer, not treating her/him as someone stupid that needs everything to be highlighted and pointed out. Instead, a Sidney Poitier classic film can say so much, a meeting with Bob Kennedy can be such a slap in the face for the white (frequently liberal) hypocrisy, making the documentary a movie that goes beyond racism, to talk about the nature and perverse mechanisms of power: win, dominate, maintain the privilege by convincing, creating the mindset you are always the “good guy”. As an European, it makes you think immediately on how the EU is shamefully behaving with the refugee crisis, or how we deal with inmigration at home.

There’s also confusion and fear on the black movement side. Who was the president during the arise of #BlackLivesMatter? And Baldwin himself has real fear, he feels and sees himself as an outsider, and all the clarity he has in his speeches and discourses turns into vulnerability when considering his position (the “accepted” intellectual, the power of the radical but maybe not-so-radical TV-goer). Couldn’t be any other way? Things are really complicated. The task is titanic, challenging, defying. As ‘I Am Not Your Negro’ is. Striking must-watch.

SCORE: 8,5/10

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