Interview

Meet Raoul Peck, Director of the Powerful New James Baldwin Documentary 'I Am Not Your Negro'

The filmmaker behind 'I Am Not Your Negro' discusses James Baldwin and the creative process behind his unconventional new documentary.

“The story of the Negro in America is the story of America. It is not a pretty story. What can we do?”


In the wake of the 2016 presidential election, many people have been asking themselves the same question that James Baldwin posed almost 30 years ago in his unfinished manuscript, Notes Toward Remember This House. The answers are to be found in Raoul Peck’s latest documentary, I Am Not Your Negro. But, they aren’t pretty.

I Am Not Your Negro showcases Baldwin at his best and brightest; from heartbreaking reflections on the assassinations of his three close friends, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Medgar Evers to searing critiques of America’s contradictory values and ideals.

At the same time, Peck burns just as brilliantly behind each thoughtful juxtaposition. Photographs of Black Lives Matter protesters are stitched alongside familiar Jerry Springer footage and saturated shots of Times Square. Clips from classic films like A Raisin in the Sun and The Imitation of Life are sandwiched between images of African-Americans being lynched and a montage that perfectly illustrates the monotony of apologetic politicians.

Raoul Peck, director of I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures. Photo Credit: © LYDIE / SIPA, all rights reserved.

With Baldwin’s words serving as the base of the film (and Samuel L. Jackson’s narration, the complementary glaze), Peck provides a deft layering of rich archival material to illuminate Baldwin’s visionary deconstruction of race and identity in America. This ambitious joint effort results in what Peck envisions to be the completion of Baldwin’s final book, Remember This House.

Gloria Baldwin, Baldwin's younger sister, she gave me those [manuscript] pages and said, ‘You should look at this. You might use it,’" Peck told me during a recent sit-down interview. “For a writer or filmmaker, it's just great to have a story clear, a project that was never made. Then you can say, ‘Wow, I'm going to make it.’ From the get-go, it was always about, ‘How can I bring Baldwin to the forefront?’ It was really a project where I wanted to use all my skills and make sure that it's a film that will stay.”

After discussing our identical surnames and respective family heritage, Peck and I sat down to discuss the 10-year process of making I Am Not Your Negro and Baldwin’s timeless thoughts on being Black in America.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Can you talk a bit about the process of layering throughout the film? Where did you begin?

Well, obviously, I had to begin with the words because the words were central. I had to make the original selections of these words. The notes from Remember This House were just one particular aspect that I found interesting, mainly the decision to lead the three lives of Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X and to create this relationship between those three and understand what they meant historically. I don't know of any instance where anybody tried to put Martin Luther King and Malcolm X together. Baldwin could do that.

Once you have that, the other story is, what is important today. You were talking about pop culture. One of the greatest critics of that is Baldwin and one of the greatest deconstructors of that is Baldwin. He did the whole analysis of the creation of the Black image, the role of Hollywood in our consciousness, in our fantasies, and the role of today's TV.

He tells you that the industry functions as a narcotic. This is exactly what reality TV today does to you. He wrote that 40 years ago, but the analysis is correct, still today. It's even worse today because now you have how many channels and how many screens? Twitter, Facebook, this and that. Where do you find the time to think? How do you build your opinion when you are submerged incessantly with information and data? By the way, not the best data. You get the minimum of substance. This is the strength of Baldwin analysis. That it's still totally functionable, that it's still totally efficient.

James Baldwin Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures. Photo Credit: © Bob Adelman, all rights reserved

One thing I really enjoyed in the film was how you were able to flesh out certain individuals who have achieved legendary or iconic statuses, like Malcolm X, Lorraine Hansberry, and Sidney Poitier, and give them a more multi-dimensional context.

Well, what I did was just the choice of material, but that particular work was already done by Baldwin. Baldwin had written on Sidney Poitier, for example. He had written about Lorraine Hansberry as well. He was the contemporary of all those people, and even more, they were his friends.

Right.

When you're a friend of Baldwin, it's not just the world like this, it's really intimate. He had that support, and he supported them in times of hardship. It was a time when there weren't that many of them, and they knew each other, and they worked with each other. They called each other, they engaged together.

It's always great the way Baldwin wrote about that because it's always a mixture: part history lesson, part deconstruction, but also parts of very intimate thoughts and also of poetry. It's always a mixture of different aspects, which I like, which I try to do in all my films, to create a work of art. Baldwin knew how to do that. He knew how to be an intellectual, but at the same time, to be a human being. You can always understand him, no matter what your level of education is. He talks the talk of the street, with substance and eloquence. His eloquence is multifaceted.

Let’s talk about the decision process in terms of layering all the images and visuals for the piece. It wasn't necessarily in chronological order. There were the Black Lives Matter visuals folded in, as well as the photographs of Black people who’ve been killed more recently by police.

You have to see that once you sit in front of the finished film, you're talking over almost a ten years process. Which means every second of the film is a result of a tremendous amount of work. It's like a chess play where you can't touch it without dire consequences. It's an ongoing process because you can't predict where you will be after doing that edit. It will have a consequence, and you have to deal with that consequence, so it's always a back and forth. Sometimes you have to take it back because where it’s bringing you, you can't solve it.

The more you work on it, the more time you give yourself and the more you know what is essential and what is not. Your first idea, even though it's original, is great. But, after a while, you get used to it. You say to yourself, "Well, I can do better. I can go further than that." That's the process, and you need to go through that process.

Patrice Peck lives at the intersection of culture, technology, new media and #blackgirlmagic. When she’s not putting an end to #blacksalonproblems with her beauty services startup CRÈME, she’s pondering her next hairstyle and exploring New York City.

Follow her on Instagram at @speakpatrice.

Sudan Uprising

Sudan has Appointed a Prime Minister to Govern During the Transitional Period

Abdalla Hamdok says that peace and resolving the economic crisis are his top priorities.

Earlier this month, the leader of the main opposition coalition, Ahmed Rabie, and Gen Mohamed Hamdan Daglo of the Transitional Military Council (TMC), signed a constitutional declaration just shortly after signing their first power-transfer deal. The declaration detailed how a Sovereign Council, consisting of six civilians and five members of the military, would oversee the governing of Sudan during the three-year transitional period to complete civilian rule. Recently, Abdalla Hamdok, was sworn in as the transitional prime minister, according to the BBC. His appointment comes after Lieutenant-General Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman Burhan was appointed the leader of the Sovereign Council, Aljazeera reports.

Keep reading... Show less
News
Still from YouTube

Watch the Retro Music Video for Dyo's 'Go All the Way' Featuring Mr Eazi

The video, directed by Mahaneela, is a tribute to the vintage photography of Malick Sidibé, James Barnor, Seydou Keïta, and Samuel Fosso.

Mr Eazi teams up with budding Nigerian artist Dyo, for her latest single "Go All the Way."

The duo share a memorable music video, inspired by the work of vintage African studio photographers like Malick Sidibé, James Barnor, Seydou Keïta, and Samuel Fosso. The music video features cameos from several young African creatives including Congolese artist Miles from Kinshasa, who are all photographed in stylish clothes before staged backdrops.

The video was directed by multi-hyphenated creator Mahaneela, who also appears in the video,

The Mirza-produced song sees both artists singing suggestively about their lovers. "Go go, go all the way," Dyo sings smoothly on the track's chorus.

Still from YouTube

Keep reading... Show less
Events

Join Us For an Everyday Afrique Party This Labor Day In NYC!

Featuring music by DJ Moma, DJ Tunez, Rich Knight, Boston Chery and DJ Buka.

Everyday People, OkayAfrica and Electrafrique are back with the best Labor Day weekend party around with Everyday Afrique.

Come hang with us for another installment of the party that brings out the New York City's finest.

This September 2 we're taking Everyday Afrique back to The Well in Brooklyn, where you can dance and drink the day & night away across the venue's outdoor and indoor spaces.

Grab Your Tickets to Everyday Afrique's Labor Day Party Here

Music will be handled by a top-shelf line-up of selectors including DJ Moma, DJ Tunez, Rich Knight, Boston Chery and DJ Buka.

The party will be hosted by Young Prince, Saada, Roble, Sinat, Giselle, Shernita and Maine.

Make sure to grab your tickets here and we'll see you on the dance floor!

Keep reading... Show less
Interview
Courtesy of Sibu Mpanza.

INFLUENCED: Meet Sibu Mpanza—the YouTuber Who's Making a Killing from Just Having Fun

'I am the person I needed when and even before I started my YouTube channel,' the prolific YouTuber says.

OkayAfrica brings you the 2019 INFLUENCED Series. In the coming weeks, we'll be exploring the online communities being fostered by young South Africans who are doing more than just influencing. From make-up gurus and hair naturalistas to socially-conscious thought leaders, get ready to be influenced. Read the rest of the series here.

Years ago, Sibu Mpanza found himself experiencing two realities Black South African students are still battling with even today: crippling financial woes at university and debilitating depression.

An aspiring musician who ended up studying psychology instead at the University of Cape Town, Mpanza began skipping as many classes as he possibly could. He would spend copious amounts of time at a computer hidden away in the corner, passing the hours watching funny videos on YouTube. In fact, he says he spent so much time on YouTube that he was literally one of the very first people to view Beyoncé's epic "711" music video—something Mpanza recalls in stitches.

He was searching for something, although admittedly, he didn't quite know back then what it was exactly. It eventually got so bad that in his second year of university, he packed up his things, dropped out and moved to Johannesburg to see if he could become what he'd always imagined he could eventually be.

Fast-forward to 2019, and the name Sibu Mpanza is not only an undeniable success story but an entire brand.

Mpanza is a full-time YouTuber who has been able to capitalise on creating hilarious content about his life and pretty much anything that interests him. While he initially "blew up" because of a YouTube video he put out, a video which called out White students at the University of the Free State who were recorded beating up protesting Black students at a rugby game, he's since moved onto a second channel, More Mpanza, where he makes content that's a lot more fun, apolitical and doesn't take a toll on his mental health. As if two successful channels weren't enough, he's also got a third channel, Arcade, where he and his business partner talk about things they enjoy in the technology space.

For anyone looking to just let off some steam, watch a YouTuber who's willing to poke fun at himself or find some really quality content in an era where everyone seems to have a YouTube channel about something or the other, Mpanza is definitely your guy.

We caught up with him to talk about what inspired his various YouTube channels, the fame that comes with being a household name and what's really important to the young South African creative.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Keep reading... Show less

get okayafrica in your inbox

news.

popular.