I Am Not Your Negro

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* * * * (out of five)

Raoul Peck, a Haitian-born director who works primarily in France, doesn’t reinvent the documentary wheel with I Am Not Your Negro, but it’s very, very fresh, and if you’re at all interested in race relations – anywhere in the world – it’s absolutely worth seeing, if not a must-see.

Peck takes the American writer James Baldwin’s letter to his agent about, and first thirty pages from, Remember This House, his unfinished manuscript from 1979, gives an edited version to Samuel L. Jackson to record, and accompanies the resulting audio with images and archival footage of Baldwin, the civil rights movement across the United States, and whatever else he might fancy, to create a singularly original work, part portrait of Baldwin, part history of the racial struggle, part essay, part manifesto.

Indeed, perhaps most manifesto. Baldwin was angry; his words are furious, incredibly precise, beautifully powerful, and seething. Footage of the man himself includes his take-downs of various establishment pontificators that amply demonstrate his huge reserves of intellect, reason and compassion. What a man, he was, what a man!

Jackson’s reading of the material is brilliant. It’s not an impersonation, and it’s not “firebrand” Jackson, either; whatever it is, it works.

This is probably the doco of the year. Highly recommended.

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