By Lindsey McCarthy
“The story of the Negro in America is the story of America, and it is not a pretty story,” said James Baldwin in Raoul Peck’s American documentary film, “I Am Not Your Negro.”
The film was presented by the School of Communication and Media Arts (SCMA) on Tuesday, March 27 in the Schine Auditorium, and shed light on past and current racial issues in America.
“Americans are more interested in being entertained than being informed,” said Coordinator of Multimedia Journalism, Professor Rick Falco. “We [as a society] like to think the bad things happen because of others, but Baldwin and Peck raise questions about that.”
Using Baldwin’s original words, which were read by Samuel L. Jackson, “I Am Not Your Negro” is based off of the letter that Baldwin wrote to his agent that described his next literary project: “Remember This House.”
The book was started in 1979 and was about the lives and assassinations of Baldwin’s three close friends: Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. The book remains as an unfinished manuscript, but the film continued its story.
“It’s a film that challenges us,” said Associate Professor and Director of the Media Literacy and Digital Culture Graduate Program, Dr. Bill Yousman. “It’s difficult for everyone, but that’s the purpose of the film.”
Adjunct Instructor of Philosophy Denise Griffin attended the screening and thought that films about important cultural issues should be advertised more.
“You don’t see advertisements for films like that, but it’s important to bring them to universities to discuss these topics,” said Griffin.
Yousman is one of many who helps select the films which SCMA features each semester.
“We try to choose at least one film per year that focus on issues of race and media, but this film did a great job connecting the past to the present,” said Yousman. “The film is usually a part of my Media Literacy course, then is opened as a public screening with a discussion for the entire campus.”
The essence of the film can be described in a quote from Baldwin himself.
“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed unless it is faced,” said Baldwin.
The film was separated into six sections. Each section took essential moments of history from each historical figure Baldwin was friends with, and related them to today’s events. Whether it was Medgar Evers, Malcolm X or Martin Luther King Jr., the film highlighted the progress each man made for history.
“It was extremely important how well it was produced,” said graduate student Harly Simon. “The connection from past to present was necessary in the way it was crafted.”
“I Am Not Your Negro” received various nominations and awards—including a nomination for Best Documentary Feature at the 89th Academy Awards and a British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Award for Best Documentary. The film also received a 7.8/10 rating on IMDb and a 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
“[The most intriguing part of the film was] how Baldwin made sure to articulate that money or power would not be the solution to racial issues in America,” said graduate student Shaenna Taylor. “It needs to be someone with passion.”
SCMA’s next film presentation will be a screening of Megan Smith-Harris’s “The Buddy System.” The event will take place on April 19 in the Martire Building’s Media Theater.