I Am Not Your Negro - 3 Perfect Connections
| In 1979 writer James Baldwin started work on a project that would explore race in America. he only got through creating notes. Director Raoul Peck has taken up those notes and crafted a perfect film. Samuel L. Jackson reads the notes as we watch Peck's selected visuals which include interviews with Baldwin which relate to the subject. It is the combination of Balwin's remarkable words, Jackson's understated reading, and Peck's insightful visuals which turn I Am Not Your Negro into the most satisfying, challenging, and transformative film experience of the year.
My attractino to James Baldwin's writing came early in college. I was romanced by his super-literate way of writing which expected me to rise to him instead of talking down to me. I love his use of language, he uses it like a jazz musician uses a saxophone. And to hear his voice address being raised as a person of colour in 20th century America, which all his insight, passion, and compassion, is in itself a rich experience. I believe that if he had written this essay, or whatever sort of written project it would have been, would have been something I would have passionately devoured. But its eventual rebirth here is something that touches me even more.
Peck's brilliance here is how he brings it all together. Its Baldwin's incredible words. They are occasionally in his lovely, queer, offputting voice. But they are also in the voice of Samuel L. Jackson, not being Sam Jackson. He gives a performance here (you never see him, only hear him) which is nothing like the 100 million other times we have seen him. His voice is steady, strong, melancholy, unforgiving. It is in fact perfect. And it is a delivery system for the ideas of the brilliant Baldwin.
Then there is Peck's eye. Directing a film is so much more than just putting images in front of us. I understand just how profound Peck's contribution is here. But there is a remarkable artistry in the images he chooses to accompany Jackson's voice and Baldwin's mind. He makes a film which is essentially watchable, perhaps impossibly so. The depth of the subject of racism in America is something that can't be captured in its entirety on film. I would argue I Am Not Your Negro goes about as far as any film could go.
It was overwhelmed as the I Am Not Your Negro ended. I felt like I had experienced something different than anything I had seen before. It is a powerful film, beautiful in its strength, which isn't easy shaken off once the credits roll. I am compelled to see it, hear it, feel it, again.