This will make you re­think ev­ery­thing

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM REVIEWS - TARA BRADY

I AM NOT YOUR NE­GRO Di­rected by Raoul Peck. Fea­tur­ing Sa­muel L Jackson. Club, IFI Dublin, Queens, Belfast, 95mins Ear­lier this year this stir­ring, vi­tal, es­sen­tial film made head­lines when it be­came the lat­est vic­tim of on­line “vote brigad­ing”, as a swarm of racist IMDb and Me­ta­critic users sought to coun­ter­act the ac­claim crit­ics had be­stowed on the picture. But why would the troglodytes ven­ture out of their caves for a his­tor­i­cal doc­u­men­tary? The pitch rightly iden­ti­fies I am Not Your Ne­gro as ideal rainy half-day view­ing be­fore school’s out for sum­mer.

In 1979, au­thor James Bald­win wrote a let­ter to his lit­er­ary agent de­scrib­ing his next project. Re­mem­ber This House would be his per­sonal ac­count of the lives and as­sas­si­na­tions of three of his close friends: civil rights ac­tivists Medgar Ev­ers, Mal­colm X and Martin Luther King Jr.

Bald­win died in 1987 leav­ing behind just 30 com­pleted pages. Draw­ing on that man­u­script, archival footage and Bald­win’s 1976 me­di­a­tion on race and Hol­ly­wood The Devil Finds Work, di­rec­tor Raoul Peck – a hu­man rights ac­tivist and Haiti’s former min­is­ter for cul­ture – has com­pleted the project with an in­tel­lec­tual aplomb that would surely have pleased Bald­win.

Here is a picture that, rather like its daz­zlingly bril­liant sub­ject, will make you re­think ev­ery­thing. Be­tween lively ap­pear­ances by Bald­win – watch him sit with var­i­ous cere­bral golden-age chat-show pan­els also fea­tur­ing Martin Luther King, Mal­colm X, Frank Si­na­tra, Charl­ton He­ston, Harry Be­la­fonte and oth­ers – Sa­muel L Jackson does a splendid im­per­son­ation over an ar­ray of com­mer­cials, movies and news sto­ries.

An open­ing se­quence pro­vides a handy ri­poste to those who would point to the most re­cent two-term US pres­i­dent. “But it’s get­ting so much bet­ter,” notes TV host Dick Cavett. “There are Ne­gro may­ors; there are Ne­gros in sports, and in tele­vi­sion com­mer­cials.” Bald­win later re­counts the peals of laugh­ter he heard in a Har­lem bar­ber­shop when Bobby Kennedy sug­gested that it was “. . . con­ceiv­able, that in 40 years’ time, we might have a Ne­gro pres­i­dent”. From the Har­lem view­point, Bobby Kennedy just got here, ex­plains Bald­win, we’re here 400 years.

This serves as an ur­gently needed slap-down for the his­tory-blink­ered who say “What about all lives?” when con­fronted with Black Lives Mat­ter. Hence the troglodytes. See it.

Anti-in­te­gra­tion rally in Little Rock in I Am Not Your Ne­gro

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