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I Am Not Your Negro

A vital, uncomfortable guide to America through James Baldwin’s eyes (Amazon)

I Am Not Your Negro Magnolia Pictures
Alissa Wilkinson covers film and culture for Vox. Alissa is a member of the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Society of Film Critics.

The stunning documentary I Am Not Your Negro (which made box office history when it was released in New York) was directed by Raoul Peck. But it was written by writer and social critic James Baldwin — who died 30 years ago, in 1987.

This isn’t a documentary about James Baldwin, though it certainly is about him. Instead, it gives new life and voice to Baldwin. All of the film’s narration (by Samuel L. Jackson) was written by Baldwin, mostly drawn from letters and notes he made toward a novel called Remember This House that was never published, as well as other books and essays.

By pulling together Baldwin’s own words with footage — both images he would have known well and clips of Baldwin himself, talking with interviewers, politely tearing them to shreds — I Am Not Your Negrobecomes a document of a country by way of a keen observer and unsparing thinker. It is a cinematic essay-memoir, and a vital, uncomfortable one.

”’I Am Not Your Negro’ is a thrilling introduction to [Baldwin’s] work, a remedial course in American history, and an advanced seminar in racial politics — a concise, roughly 90-minute movie with the scope and impact of a 10-hour mini-series or a literary doorstop. It is not an easy or a consoling movie, but it is the opposite of bitter or despairing.” A.O. Scott, New York Times

Release date: February 3, 2017

Metacritic score: 96 out of 100

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