DATELINE: A World Unchanged in 40 Years
I Am Not Your Negro is a striking documentary, based on an unfinished manuscript author James Baldwin was writing about Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and Medgar Evers, all his friends who were murdered. Yes, he was bitter.
Baldwin never finished his book, but the documentary gives its due to the lives of these men and Lorraine Hansberry too, a tragic loss of a black author to cancer.
Baldwin was articulate, passionate, sensitive, and gentle. That the FBI designated him as dangerous may be more indicative of the racism of the era. He interacted with the most famous and infamous of the black movement of the 1960s, though he was on the periphery of politics.
His insights into what ails America stands as true today as it did when he was dismissed as too radical 40 years ago. He saw America through its movie-history lens—and found that white people (whom he liked and admired) were basically morally apathetic, which was a step away from being a moral monster.
The film’s voice is Samuel L. Jackson, reading Baldwin’s words, but there is also a stunning collection of rare historical TV clips. You see Baldwin on a panel with Marlon Brando, Joseph Mankiewicz, Charlton Heston, Harry Belafonte, and Sidney Poitier, discussing black rights. Amazing stuff.
How much would Baldwin be shocked by the insignificant changes in society since his early death in 1979? He scoffed at the notion of a black president, predicted by Robert Kennedy in 1965, in the dim future of 40 years, as being an insult.
Baldwin wanted white America to face its own black people whom he felt they never truly saw: even today, one study proved that racism lives in wedding photos. The number of white brides who had black people in their wedding party was miniscule.
We think James Baldwin would have snickered at such results, then cried.