This is a painful and emotional documentary based on 30 pages of the beginning of an unfinished book by James Baldwin. Baldwin was an accomplished writer, lecturer, and civil rights leader in the 1960’s, and he had begun writing about race through his book “Remember This House.”
He didn’t finish that book before his death in 1987, but Director Raoul Peck, born in 1953, readily admits that he was an admirer of James Baldwin and this film is Peck’s attempt to complete the novel by Baldwin by bringing the story to the big screen.
Baldwin dramatizes the turbulent 60’s through his three murdered friends – Martin Luther King Jr., Malcom X, and Medgar Evers. This was a time when a sign of “We Don’t Want To Go To School With Coloreds” was commonplace. And these three men were killed before any of them reached the age of 40.
This movie captures the atmosphere, anger, frustration, and deep-rooted fear and resentment of this country’s struggle between Black and White America.
Peck wisely chose Samuel L. Jackson as narrator and masterfully reveals this saga through old photos and archived footage including the music of the times.
As each death was covered, Black children mocked, the photos of police kicking protesters, the burning of Watts, and the graphic lynchings kept rolling through, I wanted to scream “Make it Stop!” But, the explanation of the “Negro Problem” continued without a happy ending.
Well, bravo to Raoul Peck for creating an important historical piece of literature that grabs the hearts of its audience. I watched the whole film, but it was not an experience of joyful entertainment. Rather, it was more a walk on a gut-wrenching journey along the ugly underbelly of the American civil rights evolution.
Who could claim that MLK, Malcom X, and Medgar Evers were their friends? That’s how cool and historically connected James Baldwin had become as he endured the assassination of three men who he cared about. Much of this film covers Baldwin’s speeches, interviews, and lectures. Baldwin’s family and admirers will be pleased in Peck’s revelation of Baldwin’s passion and intellect.
All history buffs must see this movie and anyone keenly interested in the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement should also buy a ticket. I’m glad I saw it once, but I don’t want to see it again. Rock ‘n Roll.
Grade 88. Larry H.