By: Henry J. Fromage (A Toast) –
2016 was a banner year for African-American film, reflected in an Oscars field that proved more representative than most all the way up to the surprise winner. The documentary field was even more so, with three entries that spoke directly to the institutional prejudice that African Americans have always, and still, have to deal with.
It was fun while it lasted.
I Am Not Your Negro is a far more artistic, and angry, film than even 13th and O.J.: Made in America, a film built around the words of The Invisible Man author James Baldwin, as he relates the story of Black America through the deaths of three of his contemporaries and good friends- Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr., none of which saw 40.
Director Raoul Peck creates something truly wondrous and terrible, incisive and confrontational and convicting, out of an impossible amalgam of source material. The backbone of the film is Baldwin’s cerebral, sorrowful words, either delivered himself in interviews and lectures or spoken by an almost unrecognizable Samuel L. Jackson, with a measured, weary voice channeling the ground-down hopes and fears, the distilled disappointment of generations.
A different kind of fury than righteous.
Peck adds layers and layers to his, though, with present day news footage underlining how little has changed from the principal fears and injustices Black Americans face, often juxtaposed via literally jaw-dropping transitions and edits.
Most cutting to me, somehow, and very much a part of Peck’s, and Baldwin’s, cultural thesis, is how Film itself has underlined and perpetuated the racial divide, in spite of, or even especially because of, the rise of White-directed films like Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, In the Heat of the Night, or The Defiant Ones. A point related to the latter struck me down to the core, though- when Sidney Poitier jumps off the train in solidarity with Tony Curtis, forward-thinking white audiences applauded, while black audiences were just baffled. The point, Baldwin says, is that white audiences were just happy to be reassured that they were not hated… this rings too true.
And I’m whiter than a Mormon wet dream.
I Am Not Your Negro punctures right to the heart and mind of the racial divide America continues to suffer. I understand a bit more for it.
I Am Not Your Negro (2016) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: for any death
Take a Drink: for impassioned James Baldwin interviews
Take a Drink: for present-day news footage
Take a Drink: for interestingly deployed classic film footage
Take a Drink: when a scene transition forces you to
Do a Shot: when you learn a lesson about yourself, as black, white, American, or just human