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Cinema in Focus: ‘I Am Not Your Negro’

3 Stars – Thought Provoking

During the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, three people paid the ultimate price: the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X and Medgar Evers. Both Rev. King and Malcolm X were murdered at the age of 39, and Evers two years younger.

Explaining that he wanted to place these three men side-by-side in order to understand each more fully, James Baldwin was unable to complete that work before his death in 1987. But now, Raoul Peck attempted to complete the task and has created both a thoughtful documentary as well as a tribute to Baldwin himself.

Though the work is uneven, it is a worthy film that helps us better understand the racism that has and continues to harm our fellow Americans.

The primary concern that Baldwin brings to our attention as noted by the title of the film is:

“What white people have to do, is try and find out in their own hearts why it was necessary to have a nigger in the first place, because I'm not a nigger, I'm a man, but if you think I'm a nigger, it means you need it.”

This type of question permeates the film as Baldwin challenges the underlying sins and systems that have created the current struggle within our nation.

Similarly, Baldwin notes: “The future of the Negro in this country is precisely as bright or as dark as the future of the country.”

This truth that we are bound to one another and our future is based on how we treat each other is a profound social and spiritual truth.

The unfair treatment within the justice, economic and social systems which gives advantage to the privileged white while harming black and other ethnic minorities will undermine our mutual future. The prophets of biblical fame cry on behalf of God to let “justice roll” (Amos 5:24).

Although Baldwin only wrote 30 pages of the book on which the film is based, which he titled Remember This House, Samuel L. Jackson narrates the collection of clips and voices the thoughts of Baldwin as a writer, King as a pastor, Malcolm X as a revolutionary and Evers as an activist, in a way all of us can understand.

This is a difficult and important film which is both disturbing and convicting.

Discussion

» Understanding that racism is systemic within our institutions and interactions, creating poverty and imprisonment for many people of color, what are you doing to bring justice to our land?

» Do you believe progress is being made in facing racism in our nation, or do you think we continue to live in denial? What is the evidence supporting your view?

» If you lived through the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, what do you remember about that time? How is it similar or different from today?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is the retired pastor of Free Methodist Church of Santa Barbara and lead superintendent of Free Methodist Church in Southern California. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com, or follow them on Twitter: @CinemaInFocus. The opinions expressed are their own.

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