Combustible Celluloid
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With: James Baldwin (archive), Samuel L. Jackson (narrator)
Written by: James Baldwin, Raoul Peck
Directed by: Raoul Peck
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for disturbing violent images, thematic material, language and brief nudity
Running Time: 0
Date: 02/02/2017

I Am Not Your Negro (2016)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Native Son

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

In a year of remarkable documentaries on racism — coming, apparently, just in time — Raoul Peck's I Am Not Your Negro isn't as sensational or essential as O.J.: Made in America, nor as far-reaching and emotional as Ava Duvernay's 13th, but it's certainly the most scholarly. (The trio should be taken together as an important snapshot of racism as an inextricable part of American history.) Director Peck (Lumumba) bases his film on an unfinished manuscript by author James Baldwin (1924-1987), detailing Baldwin's reminiscences of and friendships with civil rights leaders Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X. Samuel L. Jackson narrates from the manuscript, using a surprisingly effective, moderated voice, and matching Baldwin's own beautiful, intelligent manner of speaking. This flows over a stream of powerful images, archival footage of Baldwin speaking about race with clarity that was unheard of at the time, difficult for whites to understand (perhaps less so now, but still difficult). A short capsule review cannot do this documentary's depth of intelligence justice, but suffice to say that it uses history and literature to peel back old wounds and reveal fresh ones.

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