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Podcast Episode 108: James Baldwin And ‘I Am Not Your Negro’

Raoul Peck’s Oscar-nominated documentary looks to the words of poet, novelist and social critic

The Oscar-nominated documentary

Credit: Magnolia Pictures

Above: The Oscar-nominated documentary "I Am Not Your Negro" focuses on the writings of African American poet, essayist, novelist, and social critic James Baldwin (center).

Episode 108: James Baldwin and 'I Am Not Your Negro'

Filmmaker Raoul Peck talks about his Oscar-nominated documentary "I Am Not Your Negro" based on the writings of James Baldwin, and his unfinished book on Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr. The film points out how resonant Baldwin's words still are and how maybe now we should listen more intently.

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Transcript

Cinema Junkie podcast celebrates Black History Month by speaking with filmmaker Raoul Peck about his Oscar-nominated documentary, "I Am Not Your Negro" (opening Feb. 10 at Landmark's Hillcrest Cinemas), based on the writings of James Baldwin.

We are at a time in American history when people who speak the truth seem to have a harder time being heard and when racial divisions have become intensified, so a documentary about James Baldwin right now is especially compelling because he pointed out painful truths about race in America more than half a century ago. Truths that went mostly ignored then but resonate today with a newfound passion and urgency.

Some critics have noted in their reviews that Baldwin’s words are prophetic. But that’s not entirely accurate. They were simply Baldwin’s assessment of racial issues as he experienced them and they sound prophetic now only because they weren’t heeded at the time. He was an incisive observer and it’s troubling that many of the things he was critical of 50 years ago still exist today. That’s not prophetic, that’s infuriating.

Raoul Peck’s documentary uses Baldwin’s own words delivered by the author himself in archival footage and brought to new life through Samuel L. Jackson’s measured vocal performance.

The writings are mainly from an unfinished book Baldwin had planned on the three slain civil rights leaders Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Peck, who was born in Haiti and raised in France, wants us to revisit Baldwin’s words in all their complexity and passion, and to evaluate them from the perspective of 2017 looking back on all that has happened in the more than half century since Baldwin published his first book.

You can also check out the following Cinema Junkie Podcasts for Black History Month:

The Black Panthers and Oscar Boycott

San Diego Black Film Festival

Underappreciated Black Filmmakers

Blaxploitation Cinema

Paying Homage to Josephine Baker

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