I was lucky to be at the Montclair Film Festival and Montclair Fund for Educational Excellence sponsored screening last night. Producer Hébert Peck (and brother of director Raoul Peck) was present to introduce the film and for a Q&A immediately following. MFF Executive Director Tom Hall introduced Mr. Peck saying that I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO was Hall’s favorite film at the Toronto International Film Festival. It’s easy to see why the film attracted Hall. It is a powerfully told history with a direct and unapologetic stare down of today’s audience.
During the Q&A, Hébert Peck shared that James Baldwin’s sister, Gloria Karefa-Smart, who also serves as executor of the Baldwin Estate, gave director Raoul Peck 30 pages of notes and letters Baldwin had written in preparation for a book about the legacies of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr. and how they intersect. “You’ll know what to do with this,” she said. The resulting film, I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO, is at once a eulogy to three slain leaders, a painful and necessary reminder of where we’ve been (and are) as a country, and a call to action to confront and dissect the role racism, overt and covert, plays in our lives. That call to action is for white Americans, and it’s as true today as when James Baldwin said it on the Dick Cavett Show.
It is entirely up to the American People, whether or not they are going to find out in their own hearts, why it was necessary to have a N***er in the first place….If you think I’m a N***er, it means you need it. And you need to find out why. And the future of the country depends on that. (link) (NSFW/language)
According to the Q&A following last night’s screening of the film, the filmmakers behind I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO wanted to make sure James Baldwin weighed in on current events. Even more than the wonderful PBS American Masters episode “The Price of the Ticket,” I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO forces its audience to confront the lack of difference between the racial divide of the 1950’s and 1960’s and today. The clips of Black Lives Matter marches and Ferguson, the reminders of Rodney King, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, and more are intercut with mobs of classmates spitting at and violently harassing Dorothy Counts as she walked to school, boys being searched while stripped down to their underwear, hateful crowds holding Nazi symbols and screaming racial slurs at Black demonstrations, and more.
And more. There is much more. A moving, but brief section about Lorraine Hansberry’s visit with Bobby Kennedy begs to be expanded in someone’s next film. This documentary includes clips and images from films, television shows, news shows, history. I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO reminds those of us with the privilege to forget that we’ve seen this before. We’ve been here before. And it asks us all to stand up, find the strength and humility to confront our own conflicted morals, and fight as allies. It’s not pretty. And it won’t be easy. But the future of our country depends on it.
Sharing on the moonshine grid at yeah write.