The Raoul Peck-directed documentary, I Am Not Your Negro, is receiving all the buzz in Hollywood. Narrated by Samuel Jackson, the doc has landed Peck a DGA nomination.
I Am Not Your Negro is based on published and unpublished writings of novelist, playwright, poet and essayist James Baldwin. It examines the past, present, and future of race in America. Peck unearthed Baldwin’s work because he is an “important voice and major writer of this country [that] needed to be known again.”
Baldwin’s younger sister, Gloria Karefa-Smart, entrusted Peck with the manuscripts. “Baldwin desired to write about the three leaders of the Civil Rights [Movement]; Martin Luther King Jr, Medgar Evers and Malcolm X, he wanted to link those three lives and tell the story of America through their lives and subsequent decimation.”
Here, Peck provides insight on the film that links racial violence in the 1960s to today’s killings of unarmed Black men.
How did you end up with this project in your hands?
Baldwin has been part of my life for a very long time. I have been reading him since I was very young. He’s stayed with me all this time. He’s someone who helped me be the person I am today. I decided it was about time to bring him back to the forefront because people have started to forget about him. The new generation hardly knows anything about Baldwin.
The estate has given me total access to all his works, his books, his biography, and his published and unpublished material, private letters. I have a huge treasure trove.
How did you come up with the title, I Am Not Your Negro?
I edit the film and the original title was Remember This House, which was the title of Baldwin’s manuscript. The film is important and incredible and I needed a title that would say exactly what the film is in a very unapologetic manner. I played around with a line that Baldwin says in the film, “I am not a n—-r.”
How did you approach the film in the pre-production stage?
For me, it was the impossible film. I imposed a lot of rules on myself about who would read James Baldwin’s words. I didn’t want any talking heads explaining who James Baldwin was. I wanted the urgency to totally, directly confront with the words.
I had to invent the process of making the film — from how I would use the music and how I would conduct research [Baldwin’s bodies of work] to how I would shoot such events like Ferguson. It required teamwork.
Tell us about the soundtrack.
Alexei Aigui, a French and Russian composer whom I’ve worked with over the last 10 years, executed the film music. I needed to work with people who are close to me and could be patient with the process. It was the same with the archivist and the show effects. It is all the music that Baldwin loved and knew. There was a time in his life when he listened to Negro spiritual, jazz and blues music.
Why did you become a filmmaker?
I came to film because it allowed me to be engaged in society, trends and politics and to be critical. I make complicated films. I went to film school and learned how to make blockbuster films, but that was not my choice. I am Black and I felt my heritage was hardly on the screen. It was my duty to make sure our stories are being told. And, I want to see my father on the screen, my brother, [and] my children. I want to see my own story as well because it’s part of this country as well.
Peck’s past films include The Man By The Short, Lumumba, Sometimes in April, Moloch Tropical and Murder in Pacot.
I Am Not Your Negro will be in select theaters Feb. 3, 2017.