|I Am Not Your Negro|
|Directed by||Raoul Peck|
|Based on||Remember This House|
by James Baldwin
|Narrated by||Samuel L. Jackson|
|Edited by||Alexandra Strauss|
|Music by||Alexei Aigui|
|Box office||$9.6 million|
I Am Not Your Negro is a 2016 documentary film and social critique film essay 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. It was nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the 89th Academy Awards and won the BAFTA Award for Best Documentary. The film was internationally co-financed between Germany and the United States.
This article's plot summary may be too long or excessively detailed. (November 2022)
The film opens with a 1968 interview on The Dick Cavett Show. Cavett notes that Baldwin is often asked a stubborn question: "Why aren't the Negroes optimistic?" He says 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?"
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 assert throughout the film that the fate of the United States 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 displayed 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 and rape. This is contrasted with the media portrayal of Black Americans who do not even need to be pursuing their interests to be suspected of crimes or deviant behavior and to face the barbaric consequences of those unfounded suspicions.
In May 1963, Baldwin calls a meeting with Attorney General Robert F. 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 across the country.
The third chapter, "Purity," discusses many of the socially constructed dividing lines which have separated black and white America, as well as the imbalance in expectations for deference, racial purity, social capital, spending power, the achievement ceiling, and so on.
In 1965, at a Cambridge University debate with conservative commentator William F. Buckley Jr., 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." 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 since been resolved.
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 asserts that "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."
- Leander Perez as himself
- Dorothy Counts as herself
- Joan Crawford in Dance, Fools, Dance
- Doris Day
- Stepin Fetchit
- Willie Best
- Mantan Moreland
- Clinton Rosemond
- J. Edgar Hoover as himself, archival footage
- Kenneth B. Clark as himself, talk show host
- Harry Belafonte as himself, archival footage
- David Schoenbrun
- Paul Weiss
- Billy Dee Williams
- Samuel L. Jackson as the narrator
The film premiered at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival, where it won the Toronto International Film Festival People's Choice Award: Documentaries. Shortly after, Magnolia Pictures and Amazon Studios acquired distribution rights to the film. It was released for an Oscar-qualifying run on December 9, 2016, before re-opening on February 3, 2017.
I Am Not Your Negro grossed $7,123,919 in the United States and $1,221,379 internationally. 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.
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." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 95 out of 100, based on 36 critics, indicating "universal acclaim". The film received low user-generated ratings upon its release on IMDb and Metacritic, leading to accusations of vote brigading.
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."
Awards and nominations
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||Result|
|Academy Awards||February 26, 2017||Best Documentary Feature||Raoul Peck
|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||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
|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
|IDA Award for Best Feature||Rémi Grellety
|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|
|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 and the Award of being the sexiest.||I Am Not Your Negro||Won|
- Hate crime
- Human rights
- Post-civil rights era in African-American history
- Civil rights movement in popular culture
- List of black films of the 2010s
- Black Lives Matter
- If Beale Street Could Talk - both the novel and 2018 Oscar-winning adaptation directed by Barry Jenkins
- "I Am Not Your Negro (2016)". The Numbers. Nash Information Services. Retrieved May 29, 2017.
- "Trapped in a Burning House: A Review of "I Am Not Your Negro"". Truthout. July 30, 2017. Retrieved June 14, 2018.
- Young, Deborah (September 20, 2016). "‘I Am Not Your Negro’: Film Review | TIFF 2016". The Hollywood Reporter.
- "O.J.: Made in America" wins Best Documentary Feature-Oscars on YouTube
- "15 Documentary Feature advance in 2016 Oscar Race". Oscars.org. December 6, 2016. Retrieved January 15, 2017.
- Transcript: I Am Not Your Negro | Jun 27, 2020|TVO.or
- James Baldwin on a black US President (1965)
- The Dick Cavett Show, James Baldwin and Paul Weiss Debate Discrimination In America
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- "I Am Not Your Negro (2017)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved May 12, 2020.
- "I Am Not Your Negro". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved February 18, 2018.
- 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.
- 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.
- "The 2018 AFCA Awards". Australian Film Critics Association. Archived from the original on 2018-03-14. Retrieved February 28, 2018.