There is much fanfare and press regarding a controversial piece airing in selective theaters. Yet, I was not prepared to watch James Baldwin’s “I am NOT Your Negro.” The documentary was a year-long history course, a social justice rally, proactive writing, a civil rights march and personal profiles, all wrapped up in one viewing! I was knocked out in my seat, as the credits rolled on the screen, gasping for breath.
American born writer Baldwin (1924 – 1987) is blunt and poetic about America’s troubles and joy. His in your face style of stating the truth prolifically is startling. While he writes about our past, many of his statements are relevant to the upheaval American’s are experiencing today. Baldwin’s writings and prose, have never gone out of style. While he left plays, essays and novels for us to read and interpret, this powerful documentary leaves one angry and grasping for answers.
“It is a terrible thing for an entire people to surrender to the notion that one-ninth of its population is beneath them…I am not a ward of America, I am not an object of missionary charity, I am one of the people who built the people who are denied participation in it, by their very presence, will wreck it. And if that happens, it is a very grave moment for the West” Baldwin wrote.
Even if you know about the in-depth histories behind the lives of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X and Medgar Evers, the film maker includes Baldwin’s text, snippets from 1968 The Dick Cavett Show, U.S. Government films, FBI files and other items from that era, that makes it seem as if you are touring a museum.
The filmmaker, Raoul Peck, brings soaring images to the screen, that actively engage the audience in the movement. The scenes are riveting and colorful, as he brings the history directly to your seat.
Baldwin’s vision for his unreleased book, caught me off guard. Although Baldwin died in 1987 from cancer, his political influence and social commentary still shape our society and pushes one to think about and/or react on the racial struggles people of color experience in the United States.
When others are afraid to take a stand against injustice, Baldwin boldly addresses the problems African-Americans have endured for more than 600 years. In the documentary, I am NOT your Negro, Baldwin exposed how the late Illinois playwright was part of a meeting with Robert Kennedy. As Hansberry spoke her peace on civil rights, she was simply ignored for her input. Kennedy isn’t forthcoming about what he will agree to so life can improve for Blacks in the mid 1960s. In fact, he isn’t agreeing or disagreeing to anything of importance, as Hansberry and Baldwin have an audience with him.
The Apology Sequence is current and cuts to the chase:
I am very sorry. (Hillary Clinton)
I am sorry I did this to you, but you have to get used to it. It’s one of those little problems in life. (Donald Trump)
I am here today to again apologize. (Anthony Weiner)
For any mistakes I’ve made, I take full responsibility. It’s an honor to serve the city of Ferguson and the people who live there. (Thomas Jackson)
(From the I am NOT Your Negro Companion Edition)
Injustice repeats itself each year, each decade, each era and while some people are “sorry”, people of color continue to be mistreated and trampled on. Politicians from all parties make promises and break them. People are tired of lies and are angry from the economic, social and political unrest. Many individuals are still tired today, but few answers are in sight.
“…We must realize this, that no country in the world has been so fat and so sleek, and so safe, and so happy, and so irresponsible, and so dead,” wrote Baldwin.
The documentary reminds the audience that we must be the change agents in America, despite who is in office and is running our world. Baldwin urges collective forces and people to join together (religious, sexual, racial and universal) to fight injustice and seek a common truth,that covers all boundaries.
“To look around the United States today
Is enough to make prophets and angels weep.
This is not the land of the free;
It is only very unwillingly and sporadically
The home of the brave,” Baldwin said.
If one looks at the ridicule and black balling of football player and social advocate Colin Kaepernick, one understand the very high price one pays to be brave in America in 2017.