Scroll through any social media comment thread and you’re sure to find “it” there. Perhaps you’ve heard someone mumble “it” during a conversation. Or maybe you have been the person to say “it.” So what is “it” you ask? “It” is the snide question that is always asked in privilege and/or ignorance …Why does it always have to be about race?
James Baldwin, the acclaimed novelist, playwright, poet, social activist and critic, set out to answer this question once and for all in a partially written manuscript that explored and exposed America’s cancerous problem with race. Baldwin who passed away in 1987 was unable to finish this piece so director Raoul Peck picked up the torch of social responsibility and masterfully pieced together Baldwin’s own words to complete his final work. This is how the documentary ‘I Am Not Your Negro’ was composed.
Peck uses footage of Baldwin speaking at various engagements, kinetic typography, and the powerful narration of Baldwin’s words by actor Samuel L. Jackson to “tell his story of America through the lives of three of his murdered friends: Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.”
The brilliance in the film lies in Baldwin’s ability to deconstruct society and effortlessly articulate it in a way that anyone can understand. Peck displayed his skill in simply seeing Baldwin’s vision through without diluting any of his messages with unnecessary interpretations. Peck kept Baldwin’s thoughts pure by allowing him to speak for himself.
As racial tensions in America continue to rumble underneath the surface of our social interactions, it is evident that the future of this nation remains uncertain like that of a continental transform fault. If we are at all to avoid a sudden slip on the fault of our racial divide that would result in a tragedy of seismic proportion, it is in our best interest to take heed from figures like Baldwin who encouraged healing by facing the problem directly.
“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” – James Baldwin