This is a trailer for the Oscar-nominated documentary I Am Not Your Negro (2016) by Raoul Peck based on the writings, teachings and activist work of celebrated black author, James Baldwin (1924-1987). The film is inspired by Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript for the book from the 1980s, Remember This House, that was to be an exploration of the lives of his three friends — Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr. — and their collective fight for racial equality and justice during the Civil Rights Movement before each of the three was assassinated, one after the other, during the turbulent 1960s. Using footage of his activism, lectures, television appearances and his writing, Peck chronicles Baldwin’s life and the evolution of his thoughts about race relations and the state of America. For Baldwin, centuries of racial hatred and violence against Black people have significantly shaped the fabric of U.S. society. White people’s beliefs about Black Americans have been formed through a mix of fear, apathy, ignorance and power. In the film, Peck supports Baldwin’s assertions by incorporating excerpts from many Hollywood films to show how stereotypical and oppressive representations of Black and Native American characters in cinema have served a “white imagination” and its need for dominance. As evidence of Baldwin’s profound insight and seemingly prophetic words about the future of the U.S., Peck juxtaposes archival footage of police brutality, social unrest and protests with contemporary images of the same to underscore the ongoing fight for racial equality and justice.
In the trailer, Baldwin, as narrated by actor Samuel L. Jackson, states, “The story of the Negro in America, is the story of America. It is not a pretty story.” What do you think Baldwin meant by this statement? How does this statement frame who and what is “American”?
What images and sounds from the trailer stood out to you? How would you describe the overall tone of the trailer? How do you feel after viewing it?”
Baldwin states, “I am not a n—-. I am a man.” What do you think Baldwin is saying about the relationship between power and one’s identity? How does the title of the film, “I Am Not Your Negro” reflect Baldwin’s stance?
At the end of the trailer, Baldwin calls upon the white population of the U.S. to question why it is necessary to denigrate, marginalize, and oppress Black people? How, why, and where do we still see many of these same processes of denigration, marginalization, and oppression today?