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History of race in America explored in ‘I Am Not Your Negro’ documentary

“I Am Not Your Negro” is set to screen at the Wexner Center for the Arts starting Feb. 16 at 7 p.m. Credit: Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

In the 1960s, writer James Baldwin sought the answer to the question of how to document the history of race in America. Haitian film director Raoul Peck looks to finish the answer.

The documentary on this process,“I Am Not Your Negro,” is set to screen at the Wexner Center for the Arts starting Thursday.

Baldwin, a novelist, poet and civil rights activist, began the process of trying to chronicle the history of race in America through his eyes in a book titled “Remember This House.” 

“It’s not your run-of-the-mill documentary. You are left changed, inspired,” said David Filipi, director of film/video at the Wex. “You get done watching the film and you are devastated, angry, inspired by Baldwin and the type of person he was.”

By his death in 1987, Baldwin had not finished his book. He left only 30 pages from the manuscript he had barely started. 

Baldwin was good friends with activists Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. and Medgar Evers, all of which were assassinated in his lifetime. This affected his ability to finish the novel, according to the official website for the documentary.  

Decades later, Peck took the pages of the manuscript Baldwin left behind and explored how the book might have looked upon completion.

“Sadly, it also exposes how history repeats itself,” Ike Okafor-Newsum, associate professor of literature and political economy of African American studies at Ohio State, said in an email. “People who believe in peace and justice must stay forever vigilant (and) in a state of permanent opposition to hate and injustice.”

The film takes the words and concepts of Baldwin and draws parallels with major current events, such as the Black Lives Matter movement.

“This is a great film because, not only does it give you give you a crash course in history, but it could encourage professors to show their students a crash course in history about who James Baldwin was,” Filipi said. “And in a very cinematic way it tells you the story of the civil-rights movement from what it was to the current day.”

“I Am Not Your Negro” will be showing at the Wex Thursday through Saturday with  screenings at 7 p.m. Admission is $6 for students and $8 for the general public.

 

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