A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Powerful messages about the role of activism and perseverance to further human rights: "Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed if it is not faced." The documentary recounts how people who disagree can eventually influence each other, like Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. Argues that ultimately things can only get better if whites realize that blacks and other minorities are part of America, too -- and empathy is essential to understanding others.
Positive Role Models
Baldwin is unapologetic about his convictions and passionately shares the ideas and philosophies of his friends and civil rights heroes. MLK, Medgar Evers, and Maclolm X are all portrayed as incredibly brave and aware of the risk that their outspoken resistance posed to their safety (for good reason, as it turned out).
Violence & Scariness
Footage of police brutality, racially motivated violence against African Americans, lynchings, and more.
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Frequent uses of the "N" word.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Baldwin chain-smokes throughout.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that I Am Not Your Negro is a documentary based on writer/activist James Baldwin's 1979 book proposal to write about three of his close friends: assassinated civil rights leaders Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Although Baldwin never wrote more than 30 pages of the manuscript, the film uses the author's own words (including letters, televised interviews, etc.) to imagine what such an exploration of race would look like. Narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, the documentary includes contemporary examples of racial tensions in the United States as well as archival footage of lynchings, murdered civil rights leaders, the KKK, police officers hurting nonviolent protestors, and white supremacists chanting or protesting in favor of segregation. The language can get understandably strong, including frequent uses of the "N" word and more. But themes include perseverance and empathy, and Baldwin's views, despite being decades old, are still relevant and guaranteed to spark conversation. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
James Baldwin is revealed to be both a poet and a prophet when it comes to his views on race in America in Peck's excellent exploration of racial tension in America. Jackson's voice performance is brilliant as he reads Baldwin's letters and writings, but it's Baldwin himself who's the star of I Am Not Your Negro. In archival footage, he makes talk show hosts squirm and never backs away from discussing bitter truths. Returning to America from his artistic ex-pat life in Paris had to be heartbreaking, but Baldwin felt compelled to be among his family, his streets, his people. As Baldwin discusses the civil rights leaders he knew, it's clear that they were close, personal friends whose deaths profoundly impacted him.
In interview after interview, lecture after lecture, debate after debate, Baldwin makes it clear that the America of the '60s and '70s had in no way healed from centuries of slavery, racial oppression, and segregation. He explains the desperation that led to riots and protests. He cries out with the horror and pain of someone bereaved when discussing the murders of civil rights icons and the premature death of Raisin in the Sun playwright Lorraine Hansberry. In addition to footage of Baldwin, there's occasional contemporary shots of Black Lives Matters protests, movies, and the Ferguson demonstrations. While this film isn't exactly easy viewing, it's insightful and absolutely relevant to today's ideologically divided America.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.