I Am Not Your Negro
Runtime 93 minutes
Not for children
This is an angry black man ranting and raving and revising history to fit his narrow concepts of how he would like people to view the world. His view is so glaringly dishonest it can only be properly reviewed by quoting from him. He hoists himself on his own petard.
Later in the film, in a clip from The Dick Cavett Show, after making all the generalizations epitomized below, writer James Baldwin admits that he doesn’t know how white people feel, which seems to render all that he has said before, all the conclusions he has drawn and states as fact, as meaningless.
Baldwin characterizes American whites as “the vast, heedless, unthinking, cruel white majority… I’m terrified at the moral apathy, the death of the heart, which is happening in my country. These people have deluded themselves for so long that they do not think that I am human. I base this on their conduct and not what they say. And that means that they themselves are moral monsters.
“A black man who sees the world, for example, as John Wayne sees it would not be an eccentric patriot, but a raving maniac. The truth is that this country does not know what to do with its black population, dreaming if anything like the Final Solution.
“I’ve always been struck in America by an emotional poverty so bottomless and a terror of human life, of human touch so deep that virtually no American appears capable to achieve any viable organic connection between its emotional stance and his private life. This failure of the private life has always had the most devastating effect on American public conduct and on black-white relations. If Americans were not so terrified of their private selves it would never have become so dependent on what they call the Negro problem. This problem, which they invented in order to save their purity, made of them criminals and monsters and it is destroying them. And this, not from anything blacks may or may not be doing, but because of the role of a guilty and constricted white imagination as a sign to the Blacks.”
The paragraph above is spoken over a film clip of a movie where Richard Widmark is brutalizing Sidney Poitier in No Way Out (1950) and followed up by director Raoul Peck, who is a political activist and was the Haiti Minister of Culture, with clips from other movies about blacks and whites. Baldwin goes on to talk about mixed relationships between black men and white women (he ignores black women with white men) and blames all the negativity on white people.
Peck shows clips of the nonsense that goes on the Jerry Springer show, a show that showcases weirdos, to generalize about American culture.
Baldwin goes on to add generalization upon generalization to give his biased slant on everything, in accordance with the incendiary rantings quoted above. Peck uses lots of archival films of Baldwin speaking himself, and he was an eloquent speaker, giving his ideas much more impact than they deserve. Other words written by Baldwin are spoken by Samuel L. Jackson with much less effect.
Peck closes by showing Baldwin saying, “In this country for a dangerously long time there have been two levels of experience: one, to put it cruelly, is summed up in the images of Gary Cooper and Doris Day, two of the most grotesque appeals to innocence the world has ever seen; and the other, subterranean and dispensable and denied can be summed up in the tone and in the face of Ray Charles and there has never been any genuine confrontation between these two levels of experience.” Peck then segues from a picture of a Technicolor-beautiful Doris Day singing a song to black and white stills of black women hanging from trees after being lynched.
After a TV appearance with Baldwin, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was secretly recorded by the FBI saying that he was, “put off by the poetic exaggeration in Baldwin’s approach to race issues.” Author Ralph Ellison wrote to a counterpart, that, “he [Baldwin] doesn’t know the difference between getting religion and going homo.”
Peck’s editing of various Hollywood films into the narrative is reminiscent of Joseph Goebbels (Nazi Minister of Propaganda) and Leni Riefenstahl, intending to incite racial hatred with little or no interest in truth or context.
In the end, this film is a racist polemic using the words of an angry black sophist to disparage and impugn white Americans.