One of the reasons I started this blog was to help bring some more spotlight on indie films which often do not get enough attention or are simply underappreciated even though I strongly believe their stories need to be heard. While I was still working at the Prague IFF – Febiofest, I believed to be an active part of this process. However, when my work was done there, I was searching for a new way to continue on this journey, independently on where I was currently employed. And it makes me so happy to be writing this particular blog about a documentary that should be compulsory for every single person living in this world and especially, if it is a white person.
I’m not much into documentaries, unless they deal with a topic I’m genuinely interested in, or they stand out by its unique filmmaking style or great storytelling. I Am Not Your Negro has got it all and it excels at storytelling. It’s exceptional in both its form and its message. It paints a picture of America you were probably never supposed to see, because it’s not a nice picture and definitely not one America could be proud of. Will you like what you’ll see? No, I don’t think you will. Unless you are a racist, xenophobic or just a generally awful person that doesn’t believe in equality, nor humanity. But I don’t believe you are any of those, so, carry on reading and put I Am Not Your Negro on your watch list.
It is a story of a great courage, of the people who have been slaved for decades, ripped off all their rights, people who had to fight for everything in a world that would give them nothing for free and was always against them. And yet, somehow, they managed to survive and even thrive. You might be disgusted by what you’re gonna see, but I promise, you’ll end up feeling inspired, too.
From the filmmaking point of view, I absolutely loved what they’ve done here. From the wonderful Samuel L. Jacskon voiceover using the words from James Baldwin unfinished novel , Remember this House, about race in modern America, to the editing and use of the clips from old movies which put everything in far better context. Actually, that part is pure genius. It’s also packed with authentic material and interviews, were other (white) people are present, too, and you get to see their initial reactions and hear their opinions, leaving you space to find out yourself what the overall mood in society towards the black people truly was like. The breakdown into chapters then completes the overall book-like feel. Altogether, it’s a little piece of art and I believe it’s way more powerful than Baldwin’s unfinished book could ever be. It will make you ask questions for which you’ll be trying to find answers for weeks to come. So, be ready.
I was absolutely fascinated by James Baldwin throughout the documentary. The things he said in all of these interviews, his courage… A lot of the things being so universal, and could be applied in our everyday lives. Which was another reason why I loved this documentary so much and why the minute it ended, I just wanted to hit replay. Yes, besides opening your eyes to the ugly truth, it is packed with wisdom. Take this for example:
In America, I was only free in battle. Never free to rest. And he who finds no way to rest cannot for long survive the battle.
People have enough reality in their own lives. They prefer fantasies.
You must face the problems first and admit that you have them in order to change.
Yes, take notes.
This documentary, is a powerful statement. A lesson in history and in human race. And above all – it is a lesson about America that has never really been told before. Not in such extent. A story that they didn’t want you to know, for they made a hell of a good job for not letting out way too much. The outside world truly knows so little about all this. I, as an European, never really knew the context of everything that happened back in the 50’s and 60’s. I never heard of James Baldwin, nor Malcolm X. The only person I’ve heard of was of course Martin Luther King. I had no idea how big this movement was though. And what it was truly about. My vague notion was simply “equal rights for the black people”. They just don’t teach us about this part of history at schools. And I was shocked to see it all put into context. I was shocked to see the whole story. The dirty truth about the perfect America. The America of dreams. Yes, dreams – as that America really seems to be just a construct of dreams.
And I was shocked, too, to find out how much the hate is instilled in Americans even today. I’m not gonna lie to you, I was pretty much convinced that it’s a thing of the past and that even that whole ‘Oscars So White’ thing was extremely exaggerated. Although, I do remember when I first came to the US (NYC), I was surprised to see just how much of its population is actually black. It’s not a minority as we, outside the US, are made to believe by culture and movies. It’s actually half of the population. So yes, movies are obviously still not a place of equality either. I owe you my apology for that and I am so sorry you still need to fight these battles today… I understand your anger. I understand your pain.
What I will never understand though, is where all this hate came from. Where did the very idea of any race being superior to another come from? Why? Just why? Why would you be any less worthy just because your skin is a different color than mine? This whole concept is beyond me and I’m proud to say, that I’ve never felt any kind of superiority over any race nor any nation.
When I was a kid, my best friend was a Gipsy girl who lived in the same building. Some twenty years later I fell in love with a black guy. My best friends are from all over the world. Some of them are gay. Does that make them anything less than me? No. In fact, I have always been fascinated by every culture different from mine, and if there was a foreigner in school or anywhere where I found myself at, I was always drawn to that person and wanted to make them my best friend. I simply felt I can learn much more from them than from any of the people of my own culture. I’ve always stood on the side of the weaker, of the outsiders or the bullied. I would be the one to reach out to that person and want to be friends with them. Probably, because I myself knew what it’s like to be alone and not quite understood. So, I don’t think anyone could ever accuse me for being racist or xenophobic. I have always been open to all people. Any race. Any nation. Everything that’s not part of my own culture simply seems much more interesting. More exciting. Exotic. A source of new knowledge.
I don’t think it’s something that has necessarily been implemented in me throughout my upbringing, though. We never made any of these questions a topic at home. Although I never heard anything racist or xenophobic either, and was never forbidden to play with my Gipsy friend. So maybe, my parents did play a part in it, after all. Whatever the case, it just all came so natural to me. I have always been able to look at the world and the people, without prejudice, without any need to feel superior to others. It never even occurred to me for a second that I should make a difference between people based on their skin color. It just wouldn’t make any sense to me.
I, as a white person, want to bow down to all of you black people and your bravery. Fighting against a society that’s been against you since day one. And I feel like I need to apologize for my race. For all the battles you had to fight and which you shouldn’t need to be fighting at the first place. The fact that you resisted, that you are thriving despite the circumstance and the world being so much against you, is truly inspiring. I know I do not need to say this, but if you are black, you should be so damn proud. I’ve always been fascinated by your culture, and drawn to it, but now I’m fascinated by you and your courage. And I am so glad you endured. The world would be much less interesting place without you and your culture. Thank you for sharing it with us.
Now, just on the end note and to make things clear – I’m not saying every black person is automatically good, but so is not a white person. There will always be the good and the bad, but the color of the skin has nothing to do with it and I just wish the world could finally see that. Isn’t it about time? Haven’t we been fighting for equality long enough? This is the 21st century we’re living in and I can’t believe we still need to be even discussing it.