I Am Not Your Negro

Best film of 2017

On Wednesday, Third Way released the top 10 films of 2017 by three of its reviewers, including me. With each film we chose, we included a brief synopsis and why we chose it for that position. Today, I get to expand on my choice of what I felt was the best film of 2017.

I chose it as my no. 1 film of 2017 because it is a must-see documentary for our time.

I Am Not Your Negro is a documentary by Raoul Peck that focuses mainly on James Baldwin, the African American writer known particularly for his books Go Tell It on the Mountain, Notes of a Native Son, and The Fire Next Time, among others. Before his death in 1987, Baldwin had left notes for a book he intended to write called Remember This House. It was to be a personal account of the lives and assassinations of three of his close friends: Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr. Peck’s film is an attempt to complete that work.

Although the film was released in 2016 and nominated for an Academy Award for best documentary, it was unavailable to most people until this year. Because other critics included it on their top 10 lists for this year, I decided to do the same.

Narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, the film includes footage from interviews of Baldwin in which he examines the history of racism in America. The film includes historical photos showing the suffering inflicted on blacks throughout American history. There is also archival footage of various well-known people who comment on racism, including Harry Belafonte, Marlon Brando, George W. Bush, Bob Dylan, Dick Cavett, Ray Charles, Doris Day, Audrey Hepburn, and others.

Baldwin does not mince words. In an interview with Dick Cavett, he says: “If a white man anywhere in the world says, ‘Give me liberty or give me death,’ the entire white world applauds him as a hero. But if a black man says exactly the same thing, he is judged a criminal and treated like one, and everything possible is done to make an example of this bad n—— so there won’t be anymore like him.”

PBS aired I Am Not Your Negro last Monday, Martin Luther King Day. But this film, and that day, must not be a segregated (pun intended) day for thinking about racism. Not having to think about racism is a privilege whites have. People who experience it must face it every day, in many, various ways.

As the film says, “The story of the Negro in America is the story of America.” The film confronts us with this truth and serves as a call to look again at the history we learned in school, and how myopic and white-centered it was. There are many sources for seeing American history from a different perspective. This incisive documentary is one of those.

I chose it as my no. 1 film of 2017 because it is a must-see documentary for our time.


All reviews express the opinions of the reviewer, not necessarily the views of Third Way.