The documentary film, I Am Not Your Negro, works from the writings of James Baldwin to tell not only the writer’s story, but also a story of the Civil Rights movement.
Baldwin is a central figure in African-American literature and offers many avenues to explore in a research paper, including his unfinished book profiling Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King.
The documentary film on James Baldwin
I Am Not Your Negro, directed by Raoul Peck and narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, functions as an autobiography of sorts for the late giant of African-American literature, James Baldwin, according to Jordan Hoffman’s review of the documentary for The Guardian on October 20, 2016, in “I Am Not Your Negro review – James Baldwin’s words weave film of immense power.”
“Baldwin did much of his best writing about America while living as an expatriate, and this outsider’s perspective (shared by Peck, who is from Haiti) brings with it a tremendous amount of clarity,” Hoffman wrote. He added that the documentary film does an excellent job explaining the mindset of those in power and how white America could be complacent during African-American’s struggle for equal rights. A research paper could explore the Civil Rights era through the African-American literature of the time.
I Am Not Your Negro
According to an interview posted on the American Film Institute’s blog, “The AFI FEST Interview: I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO Director Raoul Peck,” the documentary film director, Raoul Peck, takes the writings of James Baldwin and uses them to link “racial violence in the 1960s … to current events surrounding the deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of police, and is edited so that disturbing images spanning almost half a century find even more heightened power together.” The result is a film of the black experience then and now.
Research paper topics to consider could include a political science focus dealing with the politics in play that resulted in President Johnson’s Voting Rights Act or a more historical focus that links the deaths of the three activists that James Baldwin was writing about in his final, unfinished work, Remember This House.
Baldwin’s role in African-American literature
Readers of James Baldwin will quickly see how his ideas and questions are still pertinent today. For instance, in “Baldwin’s Many Heirs” by Erin Aubry Kaplan for the September 1, 2016, edition of In These Times, Kaplan wrote, “In his essays, most famously “The Fire Next Time,” he argued with himself at length about how, and whether, this country could save itself from the white supremacy on which it had been built and to which it continued to cling, the successes of the movement notwithstanding.”
Today the African-American community continues to experience many of the same issues of racism and inequality that were apparent in Baldwin’s time. Kaplan cites current African-American literature where James Baldwin’s efforts to discuss and address this issue have continued, including work by journalist Isabel Wilkerson, essayist Claudia Rankine, novelist Edwidge Danticat and poets Natasha Trethewey and Kevin Young. Other research paper topics to consider could compare and contrast one of Baldwin’s essays on race with that of a modern-day writer to see how African-American literature is evolving, or do the same comparison with a focus on how society has or has not changed in its dealings with race relations.
Are there other areas, beyond Civil Rights and African-American literature, on which James Baldwin had an impact? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.