This unusually constructed documentary is an illustrated recitation of the words of James Baldwin, American writer and social critic. It begins with a letter to his agent about an idea to write the stories of Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King, and Malcolm X, all men who are outspoken about civil rights and all assassinated in the 60s.
Through Baldwin’s writings, speeches, interviews and letters, we hear what it means to be black in America and what little has changed since the 60s. All words are Baldwin’s, narrated where necessary by Samuel L Jackson. It starts as an exploration of Evers, King and X but broadens into a story of race in America. In Baldwin’s words, “The story of the negro in America is the story of America, and it is not a pretty story.”
Baldwin has the ability to take you along with him, his tone ever reasoned and modulated, his language both poetic and incisive. Even when the point he is making is essentially shocking. Woven through his words are images from America over the past half century; clips from Hollywood film showing the depiction of race, news photos and footage. We see the inevitability of the assassinations of the three men and what it says about the desperate need to silence discourse about inequality and the reality of oppression and violence.
The message of the film is Baldwin’s question, “Why does America need to dehumanise me?” And in today’s political climate, women, asylum seekers, Muslims, foreign-born nationals, first Nations people, LGBTQI+ people and more. Balwin’s answer is chilling, “As long as you dehumanise me, America never succeed.”
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