Does “I Am Not Your Negro” honor James Baldwin? (a reflection)

Since November 4, 2016 I have been in a constant state of reflection, so I figured I should start sharing these moments beyond my own subconscious.

On Sunday, Februrary 5, 2017, after visiting the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, I decided it was an appropriate time to see what for me has been a long awaited film, I am not Your Negro .

As a lifelong student of James Baldwin, I must confess that I felt underwhelmed by the film. Not in its substance, Baldwin is poignant and prolific effortlessly, but in the simplification of Baldwin’s philosophy. Baldwin, as we all know, was a Black, Gay male, whose roots are rooted in the Baptist church experience. I understand that the point of the film was to discuss race in America, but to detach and silo parts of Baldwin is to subtract from his overall message.

The film takes us on a journey of self discovery for Baldwin. It opens with the explanation that we were to explore an unfinished book by the author. At the time of his death he was working on a book that was to analyze race in America through the lens of the murders of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., and Medger Evers. However, the film didn’t actually do this, or shall I say it didn’t simply do this.

The film highlighted each individual’s opinion on race politics in America, including Baldwin’s, but I didn’t feel as if there was any cohesiveness. In fact, the film could’ve easily been called “Martin, Malcolm, and James Baldwin” because that’s essentially who was covered. I am not opposed to the information being shared, nor the format, it all felt timely, but disconnected.

My preference would have been to have had a deeper dive into what made each man into the champion of critical analysis, how each made an impact, and how each was subsequently murdered because of it.

At the end of the film, everyone in the theater clapped, except for me. I do not highlight this point to highlight my dissatisfaction, but rather to exalt everyone else’s satisfaction. The film does a good job of highlighting the injustice that has been inflicted upon people of color in marginalized communities in America. It even does an exemplary job of demonstrating how if messages from the past had of been heeded we may be in better shape now.

Overall, I recommend that everyone view the film, especially those who are not familiar with the genius of Baldwin. For those who are well versed, then you know that reveling in high brilliance another time will be moments well spent.

Love hard, go hard! – Ms. Malcolm Hughes


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