I Am Not Your Negro

I Am Not Your Negro
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Working from the text of James Baldwin’s unfinished final novel, director Raoul Peck creates a meditation on what it means to be Black in the United States.

Title:I Am Not Your Negro
Release Date:February 3, 2017
Production Co.:Magnolia Pictures, Velvet Film
Production Countries:Belgium, France, United States of America
Director:Raoul Peck
Casts:, , , , ,
Plot Keywords:race politics, martin luther king, documentary, african american, interviews, james baldwin, malcom x
Alternative Titles:
  • Remember This House - [US]

I Am Not Your Negro Reviews

  • In Every Way That Matters...
    by JoshuaDysart on 31 January 2017

    89 out of 127 people found the following review useful:

    There are so many ways to feel and experience and comment on this film.

    AS A WRITER: For lovers of language, phrasing, and meaning, hearing James Baldwin's writings and seeing him speak is enough to spark the highest praise alone. His capacity for observational conclusion and his use of language to transmit these conclusions is extraordinary. In this, he is one of the finest chroniclers of the American condition, not just one of the finest African American chroniclers. If you don't believe that going into this movie, you will when you come out of it. Spending close to two hours listening to the man's work is an utterly intoxicating experience. In this regard the film is extraordinary.

    AS A FILM LOVER: We know that James Baldwin was a cinephile and one of the great film critics in American history. He wrote extensively about cinema and a large part of this film consists of clips from Hollywood's rough history of reducing or falsifying the black American experience, often with Baldwin's own criticisms laid on top of them, weighing the clips down, eviscerating them. There are hard juxtapositions here as well, such as the innocence of Doris Day pressed up against the reality of lynched black men and women swaying in trees. By contextualizing these images in new and fresh ways the film is able to paint an impressionistic portrait of American denial. And despite a small handful of shots that don't entirely synergistically ring with the Baldwin text (I'm thinking of a few clips – by no means all - that the filmmaker himself shot), there are enough times when the words being spoken and the images being shown are so surprising and spot on as to be true, high, art. In this regard, the film is extraordinary.

    AS A HUMAN BEING: The greatest moral failing of this nation is not its imperialism, not its militarism, not its materialism or escapism or consumerism, – though the film makes a strong case that all these things are tangled together – America's greatest moral failing is its racism. And the scalpel procession with which this movie uses Baldwin's words and character to autopsy this vast cultural sin is inspiring. Baldwin himself was never a racist, though God knows, I wouldn't blame him if he had been. Baldwin was never a classist or a nationalist or a demagogue of any sort. Baldwin was a man. He demanded that he be perceived as a man and that black America be perceived as people, with all the dignity and rights that affords. He looked America in the eye and asked a simple question, why do you NEED to dehumanize me? And he followed the question up with a statement, as long as you dehumanize me, America can never succeed. It was not a threat. It was another of his observational truths, the idea that our racism undoes us, keeps us from being great. In the way "I'm Not Your Negro" illuminates Baldwin's call for a higher humanist agenda, the film is extraordinary.

    AS AN ACTIVIST: The film implies that the most horrifying thing you can do to a movement is to kill its leaders. Not just because you deny dignity and rights to the people who look to those leaders for hope, but you also impact the movement for generations. The natural order of generational transition, that a great leader will grow old, evolve, change, and teach the next generation how to lead, is violently interrupted. What we are left with is the idea that there is nothing Malcolm X or Martin Luther King could have done to keep from being killed except to be silent – not an option for either, nor for Baldwin. X was killed even as he was becoming less militant, less radical, reversing against the idea of "the white devil". This "evolution" did not save him. King was killed even as he was becoming more radicalized, more desperate, slowly walking back the rule of love for the rule of forced respect. This "evolution" did not save him. There was nothing the White America that killed them wanted from them but silence in the face of dehumanization. And in its subtle, artistic, nuanced way, this film is about all of that. But it also ties itself to the moment. Images of Ferguson, photographs of unarmed black children left dead in the streets by police, video of Rodney King being brutalized beyond any justification, all of it means that Baldwin's words ring timeless, his call to action not remotely diffused by our distance from him and his time. In this regard, the film is extraordinary.

    AS A LOVER OF PEOPLE: Baldwin is by no means a traditionally handsome man, but he is a striking one. His charisma is nuclear and his face is always animated. When he speaks, the depth and warmth of the content play across his features. His eyebrows lift all the way to the middle of his forehead when he pauses to gather his considerable intellect for attack. His eyes turn down and to the right when he knows he's eviscerating an illegitimate institution. He punctuates an observation with a smile so genuine and wide that it emits its own light. To watch him command a talk show or a lecture is cinema enough. In that it gives us the gift of watching Baldwin speak – among so many other things - the film is extraordinary.

    I guess I have some small aesthetic qualms with the way the film is put together, but to what end? These are my own little opinions about the tiniest minutia of filmmaking. Personal hang- ups on a certain cut here or there, useless criticisms on a work that succeeds so profoundly in all the most valuable and important ways.

    The film is extraordinary, important, and genuine in any and every way that matters, and that's all there is to it.

  • An amazing use of cinematography and historical footage
    by TJ on 4 February 2017

    40 out of 67 people found the following review useful:

    Note that the reason this is 5/10 stars right now is that there is a large bloc of people who have given it 1 star (presumably the white supremacist crowd). There is no way that anyone who believes in the need to tell black history would give this anything less than an 8/10.

    This cinematography was absolutely incredible, the use of historical footage to stitch together a narrative of the Civil Rights movement combined with recent footage makes this movie incredibly timely. James Baldwin proves a brilliant orator, and the story takes you through both his life and his relationships with Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Medgar Evers. This movie tells more black history than I learned in my entire public school education, and should be seen by everyone.

  • profound and indelible statement that couldn't be more timely
    by Bill Meyer (bill@billmeyermusic.com) on 2 October 2016

    99 out of 187 people found the following review useful:

    PROGRESSIVE CINEMA - One of the most artistic and daring political statements at this years Toronto International Film Festival, was the world premiere of Haitian-born Raoul Peck's I Am Not Your Negro, based on James Baldwin's unfinished book Remember This House. Not surprisingly the film won the People's Choice Documentary Award for its "radical narration about race in America today." Peck is from Haiti and has created one of the most progressive filmographies in cinema history. He actually received privileged access to the Baldwin archives because the family knew of his outstanding works on the Conga leader, Patrice Lumumba, specifically the 1990 political thriller Lumumba: Death of a Prophet and the 2000 award winning drama on the same subject, Lumumba. They trusted in his ability to accurately represent Baldwin's life and writings, and so he took 10 years to bring this masterpiece to the screen, after being rejected by every American studio he approached. And public agencies said "this is public money so you have to present both sides!" Thus, his ability to produce this film through his own successful company and a supportive French TV station ARTE, allowed him to make a film exactly like he wanted, with no censorship, and no one telling him to rush the film or mellow the message.

    Peck "didn't want to use the traditional civil rights archives." He chose to avoid the talking heads format and picked Samuel L. Jackson to embody the spirit of Baldwin in the potent narration. The film's powerful structure utilizing rare videos and photos and personal writings of Baldwin, and at the same time aligning them with contemporary issues of police brutality and race relations, creates a mesmerizing awareness of the continuity in the struggle for civil rights.

    Baldwin made a deep impact on the young impressionable Haitian filmmaker. Peck remembers back in the 60s when mostly white Americans were honored in pictures on walls, and that "it was Baldwin who first helped me see through this myth of American heroes." He felt that Baldwin had been forgotten or overlooked, while James Meredith, Medgar Evers, the Black Panthers, Huey Newton, Malcolm X and other Black leaders were either killed off, imprisoned, exiled or bought out. There were rare exceptions on commercial TV, once where Baldwin talked on the Dick Cavett Show for an hour uncensored.

    Baldwin, although a literary giant and a close friend to many leading activists, rarely appeared at events and mass rallies, and declined membership in parties or groups such as the NAACP, Panthers, SNCC, etc. And although he was homosexual, rarely focused on the issue of gay rights, which would have been even more isolating in those decades. Rightfully, this film brings to life Baldwin's poetry and passion for justice, and regains his importance in the field where art intersects activism.

    While addressing the enthusiastic audience in the Q&A, director Peck mentioned, "I hope this film will help rephrase what is called the race conversation, which deep down is a class conversation." Although class wasn't developed as much as race in this film, not coincidentally, Peck is now in post-production on a drama about young Karl Marx(!) – a major historical figure who has rarely if never been a subject in America cinema. And all of Peck's previous films are imbued with a deep sense of awareness in the class struggle.

    The director was a special guest at a TIFF Talk entitled Race and History where he covered many of the points mentioned here about taking control of your own artistic project. He defended the idea that an artist has a point of view and shouldn't be forced to compromise his political message, whether it's acceptable or not. Near the end of the conversation I was able to ask him a question about how difficult it is to market films on race and class. He responded by saying "I come from a generation that was more political and where the film content was more important. . . I tried to keep the content but provide a great movie. . .All my films are political but I make sure I tell a story, that it's art and poetry and that the audience will enjoy it." He confesses that he's privileged having his own company and that his films don't always have to make money. "It's about financing your movie, not making a profit. . .It's difficult to have those two sides in your head, because you know that having to make a profit means you often have to compromise. . .Once I have people trust me with their money, I am obliged to give them a great film -- I'm not obliged to give them profit." And he gave them a great film! I Am Not Your Negro was recently purchased by Magnolia Pictures for North American distribution, where they praised Peck for crafting a "profound and indelible statement that couldn't be more timely or powerful."

  • Must see !
    by VivaLaVida on 9 February 2017

    22 out of 38 people found the following review useful:

    This film should be required for every American. It is one of the most important films of our time. It is lyrical, profound, historic and of this moment. And, at the same time it is profoundly intimate. James Baldwin is right here with us, front and center, looking right at us, talking with us, imploring us to consider the urgent questions he raised 50 years ago that are as urgent today. Thank you Raoul Peck. This is a masterpiece. It is as poetic as it is a demand for white people to come to terms with how they have constructed blackness and what, indeed, this means about whiteness. Peck includes one of Baldwin's most famous statements on this in the film: "What white people have to do, is try and find out in their own hearts why it was necessary to have a n*#!er in the first place. Because I'm not a n*#!er. I'm a man, but if you think I'm a n*#!er, it means you need it. . . . If I'm not a n*#!er here and you invented him — you, the white people, invented him — then you've got to find out why. And the future of the country depends on that. Whether or not it's able to ask that question." This is it. Our future depends on it. Baldwin cannot say it more clearly.

  • Brilliant
    by view_and_review on 5 February 2017

    28 out of 50 people found the following review useful:

    I've been on a roll lately with my movie choices. I've seen one delight after another and I get to add this movie to the list.

    I Am Not Your Negro is a documentary based upon the writings of James Baldwin in which the essence is Black-White race relations in the U.S. James was an eloquent writer and speaker so I may be doing him a disservice by summarizing the documentary as such. He'd probably say it was a lot more than that--and it was. In it we got an ode to Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr. These three iconic figures of the Civil Rights era were all killed within five years of each other and none lived to the age of 40.

    There was a lot of riveting and provocative imagery in this documentary and it certainly will not appeal to a lot of people. There are some ugly truths about the American past that we all want to move on from but we'd do well not to forget.

    I loved the film. If for no other reason than being treated to seeing and hearing James Baldwin speak. He was a brilliant and eloquent speaker and I had no clue. One thing mentioned was how Malcolm X, MLK and James Baldwin all had different view points and different approaches to the problem of Black people in America. They all spoke a truth as they had different backgrounds and different outlooks. But what is undeniable is that they all had the uplifting of their people in mind and all three personalities were invaluable to the African American cause.

    This is a documentary that is going to disturb you and wake you up out of your reverie. The film is replete with historical footage and photos as well as recent footage--there are clips as recent as present day Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump--so you can't just relegate the picture to "old news" or "stuff from the past". It is relevant and as James Baldwin alluded to: it is a problem that has to be fixed because the survival of the country depends upon it.

  • Came with high expectations but was disappointed
    by alexdeleonfilm on 21 March 2017

    8 out of 14 people found the following review useful:

    I'm not your Negro" directed by Haitian Raoul Peck, is based on the unfinished writing of James Baldwin on the lives and deaths of three prominent figures of the Civil Rights Movement of the sixties, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and Medgar Evers, all, three of whom were assassinated before the reached the age of forty. Before the main title we see a clip of Baldwin on the Dick Cavett talk show, which will be reprised several,times during the film. Baldwin is himself the person most seen throughout, the star of the film, so to speak -- but others include Malcolm X, Luther King and Evers, plus Robert Kennedy who was also assassinated within the same time frame, and, of course, Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte. A long sequence from Stanley Kramer's "The Defiant Ones" shows Tony Curtis and Poitier on the lam but bound together by prison chains, forced to cooperate in order to survive even though they hate each other -- the best clip in Peck's film. Many other clips were I thought far less irrelevant to director Peck's intended massaging -- basically, it seems, intended to make white viewers feel guilty. We see Baldwin addressing an enthusiastic crowd at Cambridge in England and a number of other similar scenes spaced out throughout the picture as he becomes an international celebrity. There is much graphic footage of violent police brutality against black demonstrators with Baldwin's commentary heard over --and hateful white demonstrations against "niggers" right up to the present day -- Ferguson, etc., but randomly interspersed.

    The overall tone of the film is quite bleak delivering the message that it is up to white America to change their indifferent attitude on race relations if they are ever to improve to the point where negroes are totally accepted and integrated fully into the society, while not holding out much hope that this will ever be achieved. The only slight ray of Hope is a flash of Black president Obama and his wife, after we see Baldwin wryly saying that, within another forty years a black man might become president "If we behave ourselves" -- oddly enough it was just exactly forty years later that Obama was elected. Peck makes extensive use of film clips from Hollywood movies (Dori Day, etc.) meant to demonstrate the complacency of White America and their lack of concern for the plight of black people. John Wayne is shown in an extended clip from Stagecoach shooting down Indians right and left. References to the Wounded Knee massacre and other atrocities against native Americans are used to imply that the Negroes who were raised as children to root for John Wayne are actually victims just like the Indians and should have been identifying with the Indians not the cowboys.

    The picture is divided into sections with chapter like headings on a Horizontally split black and white screen as a visual metaphor for the black white racial divide. In between poetic visual sequences not really related to the main line of the narration are inserted for some kind of effect which I found pointless and distracting filler. J. Edgar Hoover, notorious head of the FBI puts Baldwin on a dangerous persons list to be watched and underlines his homosexuality because of his outspoken anti-Racism. However, Baldwin was not nearly as radical as some of his contemporaries. He disavows the Black Panthers on the grounds that their ideology which demonizes all white people, is simply untrue. Not all white people are devils. He also refuses to identify with the NAACP movement on the grounds that it tends to promote divisive class distinctions in the black community.

    in sum, Baldwin was an independent thinker whose thought never strayed from demanding that the white community as a whole must take responsibility for their racism and deal with it honestly on their own. He lived most if his adult life as an ex-pat in France. While this film gives a detailed summary of racism and anti-racism in the sixties my feeling was that it is rather heavy handed and incoherent in a way that Baldwin himself might not have been very happy with. Moreover, rather than make me feel a sense of responsibility as a white person, it mainly served to make me realize how basically alien American black culture is to me. All in all I was disappointed in the film although I came to it with very high expectations. At the five PM screening at the Music Hall cinema in Beverly Hills there were only five viewers besides myself. The film is not packing them in. Seems to me Europeans are more interested in American race relations than well off white Americans. It was far better attended and positively reviewed at the Berlin film festival.

  • The Truth right in your face
    by mistressdidi on 7 February 2017

    23 out of 45 people found the following review useful:

    This film is a brilliant, no-holds-barred depiction of the TRUTH as it happened and was experienced by one of the most brilliant talents the world has ever known. There is good reason that it has been nominated for an Academy Award.

    Do expect to be disturbed because racism, sexism, and the effects of an evil regime are always disturbing -- such as current events continue to horrify "human beings" on a regular basis. However, for the person with evolved, emotional intelligence, being disturbed sparks powerful thoughts and action with higher consciousness.

    It is to be expected that those who are comfortable avoiding racial and racist truths will be upset by this poignant documentary. They will do everything from claiming that this is hate-mongering to insisting that the film-making itself is substandard. It is true that the racist will always attempt to claim righteousness and "caring" by casting aspersions on the works of others to avoid facing his/her own truth. As Octavia Spencer's character said to Kirsten Dunst's in HIDDEN FIGURES: "I'm sure you believe that."

    How you respond to this film is an opportunity to evolve what you don't know and what you already (believe you) do know. The choice is always yours to think, to grow, to communicate, to evolve -- or not.

    This documentary is a wonderful opportunity to not only see the world and life through the eyes of a genius, but to see your views of your life and world right now.

  • Captivating
    by Gordon-11 on 24 May 2017

    from Earth

    This documentary tells the story of the horrible history of the United States of America just decades ago, when the law and the public openly allowed horrifying discrimination based on race. Three individuals who spoke out against this terrible and sustained crime against equality were murdered. This documentary focuses on these three brave souls who met their untimely death.

    It is almost out of this world to see how discrimination and abuse happened as if it was normal. The archival footage are plentiful and very well selected in this documentary. What people said in front of camera in support of discrimination was horrific. I could not believe there was even someone singing about the murder of the African American activist.

    This documentary captivates my attention and evokes my emotions.

  • Worthwhile, but misses the mark
    by sobaok-211-4669 on 3 March 2017

    10 out of 20 people found the following review useful:

    James Baldwin said of actress Sylvia Sidney: "Sylvia Sidney was the only film actress who reminded me of a colored girl, or woman - which is to say that she was the only American film actress who reminded me of reality. ... I always believed in her." Baldwin was an aficionado of classic film, and director Peck uses vintage footage to reflect this. Peck stated that he had a "great team of archivists" locating footage that would underscore Baldwin's commentary on film and film players. So, where is Sylvia Sidney? Her omission is an unfortunate oversight. Most appalling is the use of Doris Day's image juxtaposed against the lynching of a black woman. As if Day were responsible for such atrocities. While Baldwin claimed that Day and Gary Cooper were "two of the most grotesque appeals to innocence the word has ever seen" -- was he aware that Day's father had married a black woman? Was he aware that Day had an affair with African-American baseball player Maury Wills? Was he aware that Day had starred in one of the first anti-KKK films (Storm Warning) in 1951? For Peck to insert the image of Doris Day in such an undeserving spot, in an otherwise absorbing film, does great injustice to her. It would have better suited the purpose of I Am Not Your Negro, to include Baldwin's commentary on Ms. Sidney, and feature a clip of her in Street Scene, or Dead End .... where she reigned as cinema's Depression Heroine.

  • Insightful but overly labourious and victimizing piece
    by davideo-2 on 24 April 2017

    17 out of 34 people found the following review useful:

    STAR RATING: ***** Saturday Night **** Friday Night *** Friday Morning ** Sunday Night * Monday Morning

    Playwright James Baldwin charted the history of black oppression in the US, and the struggle to overcome the odds throughout his life, after returning from a period of self imposed exile in France. In 1979, he contacted his agent to propose a new novella Remember This House, about three of his friends, Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., who were all killed before the age of forty in their respective struggles to attain civil rights. But Baldwin never completed this work, dying before he could finish it, and Raoul Peck's documentary is an imagining with Samuel L. Jackson's voice over, about how it might have panned out.

    The struggle for black equality in the US is a veritable history all of its own, that could provide countless hours of filmic content in various works. I must confess this Baldwin gentleman is someone whose name has never crossed my path before I came across this intriguing looking piece, but clearly he was a great authority on the subject of black history and the prejudice faced by the black population of his time. At times, he comes across as an overly intellectual sort, whose ramblings become a little overpowering. He spends the first part of the film dissecting the inherent racism apparently portrayed in the golden age of American cinema, with John Wayne and Gary Cooper shooting the Native Americans, creating a very particular image of the hero and the villain.

    In narration duties, Jackson was maybe not the best choice for the job, his voice a bit too thick and deep in comparison with his subject Baldwin, although his appeal is not lost on the viewer. What really makes it hard to digest is the unstructured style of the storytelling, which makes it hard to keep track with the numerous interesting threads the story throws up. While it highlights a great many of the terrible, genuine bigotries and inequalities that black Americans had to overcome in the past, the collision of past and present is a little hard to digest. The juxtaposition with the modern day tribulations of Black Lives Matter, a violent, criminal group that has been shown to terrorize those who do not bow to its every whim, undercuts the true struggles faced by the likes of Dr King, and ridiculously perpetuates the myth black people face the same sort of struggles today.

    This is an interesting idea to explore that yielded great potential, but sadly it's all a bit too weighed down and laced with false victimhood to be really great. **

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