Now Playing: I Am Not Your Negro

American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin poses at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.  AFP PHOTO RALPH GATTI (Photo credit should read RALPH GATTI/AFP/Getty Images)
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin poses at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979. AFP PHOTO RALPH GATTI (Photo credit should read RALPH GATTI/AFP/Getty Images)

The Fire This Time

The writer and social critic James Baldwin died 30 years ago, but his powerful critiques of authority, ignorance, and racial injustice in America are still cited by poets, parents, protestors, and many others who feel, now more than ever, the need to fight for progressive ideals. As Baldwin’s legacy continues to slide more fully into mainstream culture — where his essays and books, including Notes of a Native Son (1955), Nobody Knows My Name (1961), and The Fire Next Time (1963), are selling well these days — director Raoul Peck’s new Academy Award-nominated documentary I Am Not Your Negro arrives at the perfect time, prompting further discussion on race in modern America.

Peck’s documentary springs from a letter Baldwin sent to his literary agent in 1979 describing his next project, “Remember This House.” The book was to be a revolutionary, personal account of the lives and assassinations of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr. — all close friends of Baldwin’s. But he died in 1987, having completed only 30 pages of the manuscript. Now, I Am Not Your Negro imagines the intellectual and spiritual bounty that the completed book may have provided, by pairing Baldwin’s original words with a flood of rich archival material and contemporary footage, from Birmingham in the ’60s to Ferguson in 2015.

By the 1980s, Baldwin lived and worked in the Pioneer Valley and was a member of the Department of Afro-American Studies at UMass Amherst. On Sunday, Feb. 19, special guest Ekwueme Michael Thelwell — a founding chair of the department in 1970, as well as a novelist, essayist, professor, and civil rights activist — will speak to the screening audience about Baldwin and his writings.  

I Am Not Your Negro: With Ekwueme Michael Thelwell. Sunday, Feb. 19 at 7 p.m. Daily theatrical run begins Friday, Feb. 17. $5.50-$9.75. Amherst Cinema, 28 Amity St., Amherst. (413) 254-2547, amherstcinema.org.

— Hunter Styles, hstyles@valleyadvocate.com

Hunter Styles

Author: Hunter Styles

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