In writer and social activist James Baldwin’s documentary, “I Am Not Your Negro,” Haitian filmmaker Raoul Peck, not only offers a rare glimpse into the private life of Baldwin, using the author’s final and unfinished work, “Remember This House,” but also depicts him as a pundit of human equality and a race representative.


Prolific writer and statesman, James Baldwin’s final work is examined through a new documentary by Haitian filmmaker Raoul Peck. (Courtesy Photo)

“The future of the negro in this country is precisely as bright or as dark as the future of the country.  It is entirely up the American people if they are going to try to find out in their own hearts why it was necessary to have a nigger in the first place.  Well, I’m not a nigger; I’m a man.  But if you think I’m a nigger it’s because you need it.  And you’ve got to find out why.  And the future of the country depends on that,” Baldwin says, almost prophetically, as the documentary opens.

In an advanced screening, Peck said the power of the documentary rests in hearing and gaining a clear understanding of Baldwin and the race issues continuing to permeate American life without the filters of actors, narrations, or scripted lines.

Haitian filmmaker Raoul Peck. (Courtesy Photo)

“I didn’t want any talking heads or anyone interrupting him; I wanted the dialogue to be from within his head.  I wanted to rely solely on those words and give them life, of course, find the right footage and the right image and pull them together with the text,” Peck told the AFRO.  “I know that Baldwin is a very controversial personality and for me it was not about that, it was about his words: how impactful and important those words were – and are today.”

“Remember This House” was to be a masterpiece of sorts for Baldwin, who was to use it as an analysis of the lives of three powerful Black men: Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr.  Grappling with the assassinations of these men, Baldwin cast the shadow of race at the feet of Whites demanding both allegiance and participation from Blacks, but also second-class citizenship and segregation.  On one clip, Baldwin says that racism was a question of apathy and ignorance and the price Whites pay for segregation.

Theater-goers quickly drew a comparison between the racial divisiveness Baldwin speaks of with present day society.

“I was only recently introduced to the works of James Baldwin and found Peck’s documentary helpful in bringing so much of the anxiety of Trump’s America into focus,” University of the District of Columbia junior Samuel Ofori told the AFRO.  “Baldwin’s in-your-face truths helped me understand, I am not responsible for White fears and microaggressions.  No Black person is.”

Celebrated as a bold and innovative work, “I Am Not Your Negro” also offers an opportunity for Peck to recast the gaze of America into reality-driven art.

“Around me, people don’t see the world, they don’t understand the world.  My job as a filmmaker is to make sure the world is seen, as it is.  As a Black man, I don’t see myself or my world on the screen. I have to make sure that that world exists and we are confronted with it,” Peck said.

The documentary is scheduled to be in theaters on Feb. 3, 2017.