“The story of the Negro in America is the story of America,” intones Samuel L. Jackson early in the trailer for “I Am Not Your Negro.”
“It is not a pretty story.”
The words are James Baldwin’s; the documentary, by Raoul Peck, is based on the author’s final, unfinished book, Remember This House. The manuscript was meant to explore the interwoven lives and shocking deaths of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. ― three Civil Rights–era leaders who were assassinated in the 1960s.
Though the book did not come close to being finished prior to Baldwin’s death, Peck mined the pages of notes left behind as a jumping-off point for “I Am Not Your Negro.” The documentary, which received rave reviews after premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival, combines clips of Baldwin speaking in forceful, fiery terms on racism in America with Jackson’s solemn, rumbling delivery of lines from his famous and never-published writings alike.
Few have matched the author of The Fire Next Time and Go Tell It on the Mountain for insight and searingly eloquent prose on the subject of black American oppression. Peck leans into this advantage by featuring only Baldwin’s words in the film. In the Village Voice, Odie Henderson applauded the documentary for “masterfully syncing Baldwin’s words to a series of images that bind past and present.”
As this chilling trailer reveals, just a handful of Baldwin’s words and few shocking images from the civil rights struggle can speak volumes ― and, sadly, the message has never been more relevant.
“I Am Not Your Negro” is finally coming to theaters on Feb. 3. Watch the trailer above.