Wow! Wow! Wow! What a movie! Raoul Peck has done it again; this time partnering with James Baldwin’s powerful and past witnessing of several ‘American’ truths. Baldwin’s own voice merges so seamlessly with Samuel L. Jackson’s narration of his historic testimony, that the audience forgets the fact that s/he is listening to two different voices. The sheer poetry of Baldwin’s language bobs effortlessly over and within the many poignant images, leaving us with real politics enhanced by cinematic delight. Peck’s documentary is definitely one to own, watch, and teach with – so do go get it, if only to be educated by statements such as this one:
I know very well that my ancestors
had no desire to come to this place.
But neither did the ancestors of the people
who became white and who require
of my captivity a song.
They require of a song of me
less to celebrate my captivity
than to justify their own.
I have always been struck, in America,
by an emotional poverty so bottomless,
and a terror of human life, of human touch, so deep,
that virtually no American appears able to achieve
any viable, organic connection
between his public stance and his private life.
This failure of the private life
has always had the most devastating effect
on American public conduct,
and on black-white relations.
If Americans were not so terrified
of their private selves,
they would never have become so dependent
on what they call “the Negro problem.”
James Baldwin (2017) “I Am Not Your Negro” (film and book, pages 55-56).