Summary Samuel L Jackson voices the writings of novelist, essayist and social
critic James Baldwin as he examines the complex subject of the black
experience in the USA during the Civil Rights Movement.
Genre : Documentary Country : USA
Cast : Samuel L. Jackson : Voice
Director : Raoul Peck
Based on writer James Baldwin’s unfinished 30-page manuscript
"Remember This House", this acclaimed,Oscar nominated documentary by Raoul
Peck seeks to complete what Baldwin might have written. With footage of
Baldwin's television interviews (when everyone, it seems smoked like a
chimney), his address to the Cambridge university student union and
excerpts from his writings, voiced by Samuel L. Jackson, the film takes
us through the build up to the American civil rights movement, the era
of activism during the movement itself and the aftermath which we are
still seeing today.
Baldwin, who died in 1987, would now be called
an African American, would then have been a black man and earlier
still, a negro, was a novelist, essayist, playwright and social critic.
However his book might have turned out, this film takes his many
personas and tries to use them all to create an overview of the black
experience in the USA. It doesn't always work. The country, the topic
and the man are all too complex too shoehorn into one documentary.
Baldwin also has a particular style of writing and speaking, not to
mention thinking. And that, at times, is the film's weakness.
can have an acquired taste as writer and thinker. His mannered
presentation and intellectual distance can get jarring at times, because
they add an extra barrier between his experience and what you are trying
to understand through him. Two people at my press screening walked out
less than halfway into the film. The woman next to me fidgeted and
sighed heavily at various points and made to leave more than once
although she did eventually stay until the end. Baldwin's rather
detached style, however, can't take away from the tumultuous events he
lived through and the enormity of the historical relevance of the people
he knew; Dr Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Medgar Evers. Had the
film anchored itself around these three figures as experienced by
Baldwin, it might have been more compelling.
Baldwin is at his
most effective when he lets the emotion come through in his writing.
That's when Samuel L. Jackson brilliantly captures the essence of the man
and you are drawn most into what he is saying. Incidentally, this voice
work may well be Jackson's best work generally since "Pulp Fiction". Jackson
speaks over, among other things, clips from the adverts and movies of
the 1960s as well as earlier examples going back to the 1930s as Baldwin
analyses what he calls the “mirror stage” of culture that black people
went through in America in those years.
As children they watched the
movies of the day and cheered for the white heroes only to then see
themselves in the mirror and realise they, in fact, more resembled the
dark 'baddies' and Indians they had booed. This is when the film is at
its strongest. When it seeks to come up to date with photographs and
footage of President Obama and Black Lives Matter protests this doesn't
always work. The film becomes 'bitty' trying to link too many threads of
a complex situation into a cohesive whole. However, there is no denying
the force of the words and visuals from the 60s which Baldwin saw first
hand, lived through and recorded for posterity.
It would have been interesting to see what thoughts and analysis his unfinished work might have revealed. I am not your negro is out in selected cinemas now