I Am Not Your Negro
As pointed out in this film, African Americans are treated by a large segment of our white society in the same way Native Americans were described in John Wayne films.
I Am Not Your Negro, directed by Raoul Peck, is a cinematic masterpiece. Based on the unfinished novel of James Baldwin where he sought to describe the lives of Medger Evers, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, it provides an unblemished view on the state of race relations in our country.
Narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, the film shines a brutal light on the double standard applied to African Americans as citizens of the United States. While all of us know that their ancestors were brought against their will to live as slaves in a country described as the “land of the free and home of the brave”, Baldwin repeatedly hammers away on the sad fact that bigotry did not end in 1865. Sure, slaves were allegedly freed, but they continue to be treated with contempt on multiple levels.
While the film points out the number of young black men and women who have been gunned down across this country over the last 15 years, Baldwin probes deeply in his search for the many reasons that make racism alive and well across our country today. Not only was the Voting Rights Act gutted by our United States Supreme Court, but State after State established voting restrictions aimed almost exclusively at black citizens.
To his credit, Mr. Baldwin points a poison pen at how white politicians have allowed racism to spew its ugliness across the land. He points out at the way blacks have been treated by motion pictures over the years, and that is only being mildly corrected in Hollywood today.
In addition, he is repeatedly critical of the remarks that Bobby Kennedy made in 1968 concerning his belief that we will have a black president in the United States within the next 40 years. Mr. Baldwin hit the nail on the head when he stated that given the sad fact that blacks are allegedly on an equal footing with whites when it comes to citizens’ rights, why was it possible for Kennedy to run for President in 1968 while simultaneously asserting that blacks would have to wait another 40 years?
And while President and Michelle Obama were seen walking down Pennsylvania Avenue after his election in 2008, a question that Mr. Baldwin should have raised concerns the massive criticism aimed at Mr. Obama during his entire two terms. Disagreement is one thing, but point to one Republican on the national or State level who warned that if you are opposing Mr. Obama solely because of the color of his skin, then we don’t want you voting as a member of the Republican Party. Of course it was never said, and the reason is that they clearly did not want racists to jump from their political boat.
And while I’m at it, if any of you reading this review believe that racism is largely a dead issue, think of the recent presidential election in Indiana. In the largely Republican Hamilton County, multiple voting facilities were set up with free parking where residents could vote before election day. In Marion County, a county with a large African American population, the Republicans single-handedly dictated that the only building available before election day would be the City-County Building in downtown Indianapolis, a place where you had to pay to park.
Regardless, as you sit and watch this film, you are left shaking your head with disgust. Though there were differences between Mr. Evers, Rev. King and Malcolm X, they all were gunned down and killed before their 40th birthdays. As noted by Baldwin, the national slogan of “give me liberty or give me death” is embraced solely by our white society.
While it is my strong view that this film will win this year’s Oscar in the documentary category, I must note a moving event that occurred in the hallway as I left the theater. A white friend was standing next to a black man and woman, asking me to look at a picture that he had just taken of them on his phone. It seems that as the two left the film, the man dropped down on one knee and proposed to his girlfriend, placing a ring on her finger. She was crying with joy as they both laughed upon learning that I reviewed movies. And I told them that I was going to refer to them with my observations about Baldwin’s film.
As I got into my car, I laughed as I thought of what the gentleman should have told his fiancee as he proposed. Based on the hope left by Baldwin’s powerful movie, I think he should have simply asked, “Darling, may I be your negro?” Mr. Baldwin would have been proud.