Unfortunately, it is all too often that an author’s work goes unfinished and the world doesn’t receive the benefit of seeing it. Sometimes that unfinished work can still be given some form of life and spread to the public. Filmmaker Raoul Peck tries to do just that with I Am Not Your Negro.
I Am Not Your Negro is James Baldwin’s manuscript brought to life. Baldwin unfortunately passed on before he was able to complete his novel Remember This House, which recalls his interactions with Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr. With only 30 pages to work with Peck puts together rather intriguing documentary.
The documentary starts with an interview with Baldwin. In this night time television interview, the host asks him if there is not improvement and hope for the United States. This is an interesting way of setting the tone. Baldwin pauses and smiles as the question is asked and contemplatively responds not only what he thinks is a problem, but what he feels is psychologically or socially wrong that creates the problem. In that response, we see that Baldwin’s thoughts on the subject were very deep and eloquently communicated.
What follows next is a very interesting presentation. We get many more pieces of interviews throughout the documentary, but also a ton of archival footage. The archival footage takes us on a journey of the history of race relations in the US. Some of it is of course unsettling and hard to look at. All of it is a sobering reminder of events past. But the point isn’t just events, but thoughts that the events originate in. And while the narration contains a certain tone of frustration and anger, the deeper cause is still being examined. And every time Baldwin is onscreen in an interview, that is the highlight of the archival footage. He speaks on every matter with such a deep understanding of what is happening and intelligent thoughtfulness. Each of these moments makes me wish I could watch him do new interviews today.
And I think that is what sets this apart from other works. I’m not sure how much of the narration is unadulterated Baldwin and how much is Peck, but it is very strong and powerful. All of it holds a value that should be shared. These words really do make me want to read the manuscript and some of Baldwin’s other works because he has a very thoughtful way of getting to the heart of the matter. However, the whole thing actually makes me more interested in reading Baldwin than revisiting this feature in the future. Definitely think this is worth a watch to be exposed to the man’s thoughts.
Technical Side: 4/5
The video quality of I Am Not Your Negro is a little odd to evaluate. The documentary features archival footage from a number of sources. But everything looks as well restored as possible. Nothing seems to be adversely affected by any digital enhancements. The track provided is a lossless 5.1 Master Audio presentation. This keeps the narration clean and reliable in the surround. The archival footage is enhanced to utilize the surround track and fill out the environment. This worked surprisingly effectively and was a pleasant finding.
Special Features and Packaging: 3.5/5
Interview with director Raoul Peck: This was my favorite feature from the bunch. Raoul very personably discussed how Baldwin’s writings have influenced him. Also, he speaks in detail about his background and motivations towards making this film.
Q&A with Samuel L. Jackson: This Q&A mainly focuses on Samuel L Jackson and things that drew him to such a production and why he delivered his performance the way he did.
Q&A with Raoul Peck: This is focused less on Raoul and more on making of the film and what Peck believes it brings to society today.
Video Photo Gallery: A selection of photos that are showcased as the camera pans from one to the another.
Magnet gives I Am Not Your Negro a nice slipcover with artwork matching the cover art.
I really enjoyed the experience of hearing James Baldwin’s ideas. It is a shame he didn’t live longer to share his ideas even wider. This disc is technically solid and the extras are worth a watch to digest. I just don’t know if I Am Not Your Negro has the kind of replay value the man’s written works would. This is certainly worth a rental, though.
Note: This Blu-ray was sent to us for review. This has not affected our judgement or editorial process in any way. Please contact us if you have any questions regarding this process.