I Am Not Your Negro is a moving documentary detailing the Civil Rights Movement through the lens of one of its most prominent activists, the writer James Baldwin. Baldwin not only wrote rich stories about growing up as a black male in the United States, he also spoke at conferences, on television, and in public gatherings, to discuss the wrongs of segregation, of the American divide, and of the socio-political injustices on black lives and minorities living in America, even particularly in the portrayal of them in history and the news, in classrooms, and in the media.
(From Art Forum)
Baldwin didn’t believe God wanted him have hatred towards whites or for there to be national or social segregation. Baldwin confesses that he believes that whites didn’t act the way that they did (with superiority or hatred towards the black community, for example) because they were born “being white” but because some other reason, like power or money. The documentary is most interesting, I think, because it presents a narrative voice-over of Baldwin’s writing playing over clips of American culture around the Civil Rights movement, with a strong emphasis on movies and televised representations of blacks, such as with Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. If blacks were ever in a movie, they were most often showed as simple or submissive, uneducated or foolish. Baldwin saw these movies as false representation of the quality of black personhood, as well as an extension of white supremacy and cultural vengeance due to any effect of progress made during the civil rights movements. Movies, media, news, etc. that further propagated segregation in American culture only did great damage to both sides of the times, according to Baldwin.
The title, I believe, is an assertion that Baldwin does not identify with the media’s presentation of a submissive (“possessed”/controlled and suppressed) African American image, or as the description of a black person in age-old myths, or as the contentedly segregated black person in America, or as the radical black person promoting racial supremacy and hatred: he is a person. Baldwin’s post-structuralist utterance is the most revolutionary message of the Civil Rights Movement that is different from any other. The documentary is a deeply moving presentation of personal narrative, history, media analysis, and moral survey on human rights, freedom, compassion, co-existence, and truth.