This documentary about James Baldwin is a must watch

2016-11-20 06:00

Johannesburg -  "James Baldwin wrote about Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem before Kaepernick was even born, he described the Rodney King beating and Ferguson half a century before either event occurred. That’s because the history of being black in America is not new. It is old and worn and painful; just as exhausting today as it was yesterday."

So writes Aramide Tinubu in her Shadow and Act review of the film festival premiere of Raoul Peck’s highly anticipated and apparently heartbreaking documentary on writer James Baldwin’s experience of race in America.

In I Am Not Your Negro, the Haitian film maker brings 30 pages of Baldwin’s unfinished writing, Remember This House, to life, offering “a view of both Baldwin and Peck’s journeys as black men in America, encountering racism and violence,” according to Tinubu.

Baldwin, who died in 1987, was a social critic, novelist, essayist, playwright and poet, most famous for Notes of a Native Son (1955). He was also openly gay and presented an intersection of struggles that is particularly relevant today. We think it’s awesome that ever more people are being exposed to his work.

The documentary – there still hasn’t been a biopic – includes clips of black artists in popular culture and images of black life past and present. The festival poster is powerful in its use of a photo of Baldwin in a racially mixed crowd, both defiant and distant, and looking like the coolest cat there.

But it’s this week’s premiere of the next poster, to announce a US cinema release on 3 February, that rocked our worlds.

Baldwin’s eyes stare from the top of the poster in pained accusation, looking like the eyes of a man who has seen too much. The credits are written in blood red. But it’s the text that punches hardest. It proves that words – especially charged words such as “negro” and “not” – are more powerful than images in certain contexts, especially in a time of placards and protest.

Watch the trailer here:

(Posters supplied)

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