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I Am not your Negro

Directed by Raoul Peck

USA, 2016

HOME, 19 April 2017

We hear the testimony of James Baldwin through the voice of Samuel L Jackson.

James Baldwin had apparently written a memoir, an account of his encounters with three murdered men – Martin Luther King Junior, Malcolm X and Medgar Evers (the last named the subject of Bob Dylan’s most ferocious song) – unfinished at his death. It is this text that Jackson reads from and, as you would expect, it is full of raw insights and startling emotion. He says, for example, that a witness is always in as perilous a predicament as an actor. There is, as well, footage of Baldwin speaking at the Cambridge Union and appearing on the Dick Cavett show. Often, his pronouncements strike you as prophetic.

Those familiar with Baldwin’s work might think of this film (and the spoken text) as a sequel to The Fire Next Time, a book which takes its title from the Bible: ‘God gave Noah the rainbow sign. No more water, the fire next time.’ Here too Baldwin’s subject is black people in America and his great fear is that America cannot be saved. Some recent footage of a ‘Black Lives Matter’ protest in Ferguson underlines Baldwin’s relevance.