The Culture Movies

In Black Lives Matter era, reviewers are won over by new documentary film 'I Am Not Your Negro'

The documentary, which will be released in theaters on Feb. 3, is directed by Raoul Peck and is based on writings by James Baldwin about civil rights leaders including Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., and Medgar Evers.

James Baldwin (center) appears in the documentary 'I Am Not Your Negro.'
Dan Budnik/Magnolia Pictures/AP
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The new documentary, “I Am Not Your Negro,” to be released on Feb. 3, has attracted praise from critics for its relevance in the era of Black Lives Matter.

The movie is directed by Raoul Peck and is narrated by Samuel L. Jackson. The film discusses race relations in America and centers on an unpublished work by civil rights-era social critic James Baldwin, drawing from notes about a possible book titled “Remember This House” that would have looked at three figures in the civil rights movement: Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., and Medgar Evers. 

The movie has so far received very positive reviews from critics. Chicago Tribune writer Michael Phillips called the film “splendid” and wrote that “Everything Baldwin said then, about race and America, speaks with urgent prescience to the America Baldwin (who died in 1987) never saw but saw coming, because he'd seen it before: Rodney King. Ferguson. Black Lives Matter. All of it. The necessity for all of it.

"The bloody, racist forces destroying his subjects, which we now couch in milder, misleading discussions of ‘white nationalism’ and ‘alt-right,’ have infected the body politic with renewed virulence in the 21st century," Mr. Phillips continued. "This movie isn't just a tribute to Baldwin. It's a warning bell regarding leaders who, in Baldwin's words, care only about ‘their safety and their profits.’ ” 

Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times was also won over by the film, writing that it is “a mesmerizing cinematic experience, smart, thoughtful, and disturbing ... [it’s] a film essay that's powerfully and painfully relevant today even though its subject died almost 30 years ago.” 

And Hollywood Reporter writer Deborah Young writes that, like Mr. Turan, she was also troubled by the film. “It is a searing and topical indictment of racial prejudice and hatred in America that makes for uneasy viewing and is not easily forgotten,” she writes. Ms. Young did note that “the film’s loose structure and preference for free association can get confusing,” but overall she found that “America’s history of racism, violence, exploitation and injustice comes through with chilling clarity.”