I Am Not Your Negro

I Am Not Your Negro ★★★½

After reading 'Notes of a Native Son' in high school, James Baldwin immediately became one of my favorite writers. Samuel L. Jackson's gentle, yet firm recitation of these words is as affecting as any of the images on the screen. Which is a shame, because the narration-to-video juxtapositions are sometimes artless. Sure, Baldwin was sometimes as much of a cultural critic as a scholar of race in America, but the way the footage weaves from historical to modern and literally illustrates Baldwin's words and tone can feel random at times. Other times it's distracting, or even worse, confusing... like in the case of cutting from static shots of news clippings about school shootings to a clip from Gus Van Sant's Elephant to footage of the Rodney King beating to Billy Wilder's Love in the Afternoon.
As his words softly graze over clips from Jerry Springer or cell phone videos of young black men being shot by police, it's powerful to ask "What would this great thinker write or say if he were alive today?" But I'm not entirely sure the documentary does anything besides evoking that response.

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