Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” – James Baldwin I am not your Negro.
‘I am not your negro’ is a documentary about the failure of Americans to face white racist violence in their society. It is based on a 30-page set of notes written by James Baldwin in 1979 about three of his friends who were assasinated: Medgar Evers (1963), Malcolm X (1965) and Martin Luther King (1968).
It is rare you leave a film and realise you have a better understanding of a country than you did before. This is one such film. While the US is fixated on its vacuous Hollywood romance with itself it ignores the slaves who were brought there against their will and assassinates three of their leaders in the space of 5 years.
A scathing and uncompromising portrayal by author James Baldwin (Go Tell it on a Mountain) who gave up on his country of birth in 1948 and went to Paris.
Baldwin felt compelled to return when he saw a young african-american student being spat on and abused by racists simply for wanting to go to school in Alabama.
The Kennedy’s don’t come out of this film well. Attorney General Bobby Kennedy could not provide moral leadership in the face of white race riots in the South. His pleas for calm after Martin Luther King was assassinated came too late. Stokely Carmichael voiced one response:
‘When they got rid of brother Martin Luther King they had absolutely no reason to do so … he was the one man in our race who was trying to teach our people to have love, compassion and mercy for what white people had done. When white America killed Dr King last night she declared war on us …’ — Stokely Carmichael, who coined the term ‘Black Power’, speaks after the assassination of Martin Luther King on 4th April 1968.
Neither does the entertainment industry come out well. In music, the saccaharin Doris Day is compared with the Blind Ray Charles. In film, Audrey Hepburn and Gary Cooper in Love in the Afternoon appear as fatuous romantics, white delusion. America’s repressed sexuality in film is exposed by Baldwin. He says that white America could not see that Sydney Poitier and Harry Belafonte are black sex symbols. J Edgar Hoover had Baldwin tailed because he was suspected of being a homosexual. Ironically I am not your negro was nominated for an academy award. A friend said that the great black American, Paul Robeson, said he was uncomfortable politically with every role given him.
Baldwin’s commentary is scathing. At one point he talks about the film ‘The Defiant Ones’ (Tony Curtis and Sydney Poitier). There’s a scene where two prison escapees, one black the other white, are running for a train. The whitefella (Tony Curtis) can’t make it so, in a gesture of solidarity, the blackfella (Sydney Poitier) jumps off the train. Baldwin says that this scene is designed to calm white american fears of the black man, while black america is saying: ‘Get back up on that train, you fool!’
The B&W photographic portraits of James Baldwin are stunning.
For those that missed it, hopefully it will be screened on SBS sometime soon.
Today, Medgar Evers was buried from the bullet he caught They lowered him down as a king But when the shadowy sun sets on the one That fired the gun He’ll see by his grave On the stone that remains Carved next to his name His epitaph plain Only a pawn in their game – Bob Dylan
‘I am not your negro’ was screened to a large audience at the Brisbane Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) cinema on 12 Jan 2018.
13 June 2018.
Photo American celebrities (from Left to right): Charleton Heston (Actor, National Rifle Aassociation), James Baldwin (Writer, b. 1929), Marlon Brando (Actor), Harry Belafonte (Actor).