I Am Not Your Negro

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I Am Not Your Negro
I Am Not Your Negro.png
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRaoul Peck
Written by
Based onRemember This House
by James Baldwin
Produced by
Narrated bySamuel L. Jackson
Edited byAlexandra Strauss
Music byAlexei Aigui
Production
companies
Distributed by
Release date
  • September 10, 2016 (2016-09-10) (TIFF)
  • February 3, 2017 (2017-02-03) (United States)
Running time
95 minutes[1]
CountriesFrance
United States
Switzerland
Belgium
LanguageEnglish
Budget$1 million[2]
Box office$7.7 million[1]

I Am Not Your Negro is a 2016 documentary film and social critique directed by Raoul Peck, based on James Baldwin's unfinished manuscript Remember This House. Narrated by actor Samuel L. Jackson, the film explores the history of racism in the United States through Baldwin's recollections of civil rights leaders Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr., as well as his personal observations of American history.[3] It was nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the 89th Academy Awards and won the BAFTA Award for Best Documentary.[4][5]

Synopsis[edit]

The film opens with a 1968 interview on The Dick Cavett Show. Cavett posits that Baldwin is often asked a stubborn question: "Why aren't the Negroes optimistic?" He notes that many people believe the situation to be improving considerably, with Black people now holding positions of influence across society: as mayors, professional athletes, politicians and TV actors. Cavett asks Baldwin, "Is it at once getting much better and still hopeless?"[6]

In response, Baldwin says, "I don't think there's much hope for it, as long as people are using this peculiar language. It's not a question of what happens to the Negro here, [though] that is a very vivid question for me. The real question is what's going to happen to this country? I have to repeat that." Baldwin continues to point out throughout the film that the fate of America is directly linked to how effectively it addresses the plight of Black Americans. The prospects for the entire country and the prospects for Black Americans are inextricably tied together such that the truth and reckoning for one becomes the same for the other.

The film is divided into five chapters across which Baldwin weaves the assassinations of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and MLK Jr.. The first chapter, "Paying My Dues," portrays the school integration era of the civil rights movement and the fierce resistance to it which was employed by many white Americans in an attempt to maintain segregation and the status quo of white supremacy.

The second chapter, "Heroes," highlights how white film protagonists are near-universally portrayed through a romantic, heroic lens when pursuing and protecting their interests, even and especially through the use of violence. This is contrasted with the media portrayal of Black Americans who don't even need to be pursuing their interests to be suspected of crimes or deviant behavior and to face the barbaric consequences of those suspicions.

In May 1963, Baldwin calls a meeting with Attorney General Bobby Kennedy. With playwright Lorraine Hansberry in attendance, the meeting devolves into a tense standoff and does not conclude amicably. It does, however, contribute to Kennedy's awakening to the significance and urgency of racial issues in America.

The third chapter, "Purity," discusses many of the socially constructed dividing lines which separate black and white America, as well as the imbalance in expectations for deference, racial purity, social standing, social capital, spending power, the achievement ceiling, and so on.

In 1965, at a Cambridge University debate with conservative commentator William Buckley, Baldwin expounds on a recent remark from ex-AG Kennedy: "It's conceivable that in 40 years in America, we might have a Negro president."[7] He makes clear the absurdity and bitterness with which many Black Americans received the remark: Black people have been here all along, for the entire 400 years since European colonization began. They were kidnapped, brought to America against their will, and subjugated into subhuman, slave-laborer conditions. And yet they must wait 40 more years to even have a remote chance of being permitted into the highest office in the land?

The fourth chapter, "Selling the Negro," tracks the history of exploitation of Black people, from an economy of forced labor at the outset to an economy of imprisonment today. A perennial tension in American life is emphasized, brought about by the historic and continued oppression of Black Americans versus an unyielding effort among many white Americans to convince themselves that any racial problem that may have existed in the past has been solved.

The fifth and final chapter, "I Am Not A Nigger," elucidates the modern-day condition of Black America by tying the strands of the previous four chapters together. In the closing scene, Baldwin posits, "I can't be a pessimist because I'm alive,...so I'm forced to be an optimist...But 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 to the American people...whether or not they are going to face and deal with and embrace this stranger whom they maligned so long. What white people have to do is try to find out in their own hearts why it was necessary to have a 'nigger' in the first place. Because I am not a nigger, I am a man! But if you think I'm a nigger, it means you need him. And the question the white population of this country has got to ask itself—North and South, because it's one country, and for a Negro there is no difference between the North and the South. It's just a difference in the way they castrate you, but the fact of the castration is the American fact—If I am not the nigger here, and you the white people invented him, then you've got to find out why. And the future of the country depends on that, whether or not it's able to ask [itself] that question."

Cast[edit]

Release[edit]

The film premiered at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival, where it won the Toronto International Film Festival People's Choice Award: Documentaries.[9] Shortly after, Magnolia Pictures and Amazon Studios acquired distribution rights to the film.[10][11] It was released for an Oscar-qualifying run on December 9, 2016, before re-opening on February 3, 2017.[12]

Box office[edit]

I Am Not Your Negro grossed $7,123,919 in the United States and $1,221,379 internationally.[1][13] The film industry website IndieWire attributed, in part, the financial success of the movie to the release shortly before the announcement of Academy Award nominees, opening in an unusually high number of cities, and in non-traditional movie theaters that would generate a word of mouth following.[14]

Critical response[edit]

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 99% based on 206 reviews, with an average rating of 8.90/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "I Am Not Your Negro offers an incendiary snapshot of James Baldwin's crucial observations on American race relations—and a sobering reminder of how far we've yet to go."[15] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 95 out of 100, based on 36 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[16] The film received low user-generated ratings upon its release on IMDb and Metacritic, leading to accusations of vote brigading.[17]

Joe Morgenstern from The Wall Street Journal said, "the film is unsparing as history and enthralling as biography. It's an evocation of a passionate soul in a tumultuous era, a film that uses Baldwin’s spoken words, and his notes for an unfinished book, to illuminate the struggle for civil rights."[18]

Awards and nominations[edit]

I Am Not Your Negro was nominated for numerous international awards and won over a dozen, including the following:

Award Date of ceremony Category Recipients and nominees Result
Academy Awards February 26, 2017 Best Documentary Feature Raoul Peck
Rémi Grellety
Hébert Peck
Nominated
Alliance of Women Film Journalists December 21, 2016 Best Documentary Raoul Peck Nominated
Best Editing Alexandra Strauss Nominated
Austin Film Critics Association Awards December 28, 2016 Best Documentary I Am Not Your Negro Nominated
Black Film Critics Circle December 20, 2016 Special Mention I Am Not Your Negro Won
Australian Film Critics Association[19] March 13, 2018 Best Documentary Film (Local or International) I Am Not Your Negro Won
Black Reel Awards February 16, 2017 Best Feature Documentary Raoul Peck Nominated
British Academy Film Awards February 18, 2018 Best Documentary Raoul Peck Won
Central Ohio Film Critics Association Best Documentary I Am Not Your Negro Nominated
52nd Chicago International Film Festival October 21, 2016 Audience Choice Award – Best Documentary Feature Raoul Peck Won
Cinema Eye Honors Awards, US January 11, 2017 Cinema Eye Audience Choice Prize Raoul Peck Nominated
Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction Feature Filmmaking Rémi Grellety
Hébert Peck
Raoul Peck
Nominated
Outstanding Achievement in Direction Raoul Peck Nominated
Outstanding Achievement in Editing Alexandra Strauss Nominated
Outstanding Achievement in Original Music Score Alexei Aigui Nominated
Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association Awards December 13, 2016 Best Documentary Film I Am Not Your Negro Nominated
Diversity in Media Awards September 15, 2017 Movie of the Year Award I Am Not Your Negro Nominated
Florida Film Critics Circle Awards December 21, 2016 Best Documentary Film I Am Not Your Negro Nominated
Gotham Awards November 28, 2016 Audience Award I Am Not Your Negro Nominated
Best Documentary I Am Not Your Negro Nominated
Hamptons International Film Festival Audience Award – Best Documentary Raoul Peck Won
Brizzolara Family Foundation Award for a Film of Conflict and Resolution – Best Film Raoul Peck Nominated
Independent Spirit Awards February 27, 2016 Best Documentary Feature I Am Not Your Negro Nominated
IndieWire Critics Poll December 19, 2016 Best Documentary I Am Not Your Negro 3rd Place
Best Editing Alexandra Strauss 9th Place
International Documentary Association Creative Recognition Award – Best Writing Raoul Peck
James Baldwin
Won
IDA Award for Best Feature Rémi Grellety
Hébert Peck
Raoul Peck
Nominated
Video Source Award Raoul Peck Nominated
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards December 4, 2016 Best Documentary Film I Am Not Your Negro Won
MTV Movie & TV Awards May 7, 2017 Best Documentary I Am Not Your Negro Nominated
NAACP Image Awards February 11, 2017 Outstanding Documentary – Film I Am Not Your Negro Nominated
National Society of Film Critics Awards January 7, 2016 Best Non-Fiction Film Raoul Peck Runner-up
News and Documentary Emmy Awards September 24, 2019 Outstanding Arts & Culture Documentary I Am Not Your Negro Nominated
Outstanding Documentary Nominated
North Carolina Film Critics Association January 2, 2017 Best Documentary Film I Am Not Your Negro Nominated
Online Film Critics Society January 3, 2017 Best Documentary Film I Am Not Your Negro Nominated
Philadelphia Film Festival October 30, 2016 Audience Award – Best Feature Raoul Peck Won
Jury Prize for Best Documentary Feature Raoul Peck Won
San Francisco Film Critics Circle December 11, 2016 Best Documentary Film Raoul Peck Won
St. Louis Gateway Film Critics Association December 18, 2016 Best Documentary Feature I Am Not Your Negro Won
41st Toronto International Film Festival September 18, 2016 People's Choice Award – Documentary Raoul Peck Won
Village Voice Film Poll December 21, 2016 Best Documentary I Am Not Your Negro 3rd Place
(Tied with No Home Movie)
Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association Awards December 4, 2016 Best Documentary I Am Not Your Negro Nominated
International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights March 18, 2017 Gilda Vieira de Mello Award I Am Not Your Negro Won

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c "I Am Not Your Negro (2016)". The Numbers. Nash Information Services. Retrieved May 29, 2017.
  2. ^ "Trapped in a Burning House: A Review of "I Am Not Your Negro"". Truthout. July 30, 2017. Retrieved June 14, 2018.
  3. ^ Young, Deborah (September 20, 2016). "‘I Am Not Your Negro’: Film Review | TIFF 2016". The Hollywood Reporter.
  4. ^ "O.J.: Made in America" wins Best Documentary Feature-Oscars on YouTube
  5. ^ "15 Documentary Feature advance in 2016 Oscar Race". Oscars.org. December 6, 2016. Retrieved January 15, 2017.
  6. ^ Transcript: I Am Not Your Negro | Jun 27, 2020|TVO.or
  7. ^ James Baldwin on a black US President (1965)
  8. ^ The Dick Cavett Show, James Baldwin and Paul Weiss Debate Discrimination In America
  9. ^ Knight, Chris (September 18, 2016). "La La Land wins the People's Choice Award at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival". National Post. Postmedia Network. Retrieved June 14, 2018.
  10. ^ Lodderhose, Diana (September 15, 2016). "Magnolia Picks Up Raoul Peck's 'I Am Not Your Negro' — Toronto". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Business Media. Retrieved June 14, 2018.
  11. ^ McNary, Dave (January 5, 2017). "'I Am Not Your Negro' Trailer: James Baldwin Describes Race Relations in America (Watch)". Variety. Penske Business Media. Retrieved February 4, 2017.
  12. ^ Hipes, Patrick (November 22, 2016). "'I Am Not Your Negro' Early Run Set In Awards-Season Ramp-Up". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Business Media. Retrieved February 4, 2017.
  13. ^ "I Am Not Your Negro (2016)". IMDb. Retrieved June 1, 2021.
  14. ^ Winfrey, Graham (April 7, 2017). "'I Am Not Your Negro': How Magnolia Pictures Launched a Smash Hit at the Box Office". IndieWire. Penske Business Media. Archived from the original on April 10, 2017. Retrieved April 10, 2017.
  15. ^ "I Am Not Your Negro (2017)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved May 12, 2020.
  16. ^ "I Am Not Your Negro". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved February 18, 2018.
  17. ^ Flock, Elizabeth (February 7, 2017). "Is 'I Am Not Your Negro' the latest victim of online 'vote brigading'?". PBS NewsHour. PBS. Retrieved July 30, 2017.
  18. ^ Morgenstern, Joe (February 2, 2017). "'I Am Not Your Negro' Review: Brilliant Notes on a Native Son". The Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company. Retrieved March 5, 2017.
  19. ^ "The 2018 AFCA Awards". Australian Film Critics Association. Archived from the original on 2018-03-14. Retrieved February 28, 2018.

External links[edit]