The best documentaries aren’t instructive vehicles stuffed with facts; they’re vast wells of ideas that continue to take shape even after you’ve finished watching. That’s the kind of documentary Raoul Peck gives us with I Am Not Your Negro, a reconstruction of a book that never came to fruition: Before he died, in 1987, James Baldwin had embarked on an ambitious work that was to be titled Remember This House, an account of the lives and legacies of three of his closest friends, Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr.. Baldwin had completed only 30 pages by the time of his death, but Peck obtained the notes for the manuscript from Baldwin’s estate, and he uses them here—combined with clips from Baldwin’s public appearances—to assemble a mosaic of the work that might have been. (Baldwin’s text is read by Samuel L. Jackson, who captures the supple eloquence of his language.) The result is an extraordinary and multifaceted reflection on Black racial identity in America, and a work dedicated to keeping Baldwin’s ideas alive in the world.
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