Thirty years after James Baldwin's untimely death at the age of 63, Haitian-born Raoul Peck makes good on Baldwin's spirited prophecy through his timely and intrepidly titled I Am Not Your Negro (2016). In his rendezvous with Baldwin, Peck carries Baldwin's prescient voice into the twenty-first century, where his rhetorical practice of “telling it like it is” resonates anew in this perilous political moment. Drawing on his signature practice of reanimating the archive through bricolage, Peck not only represents but also remobilizes Baldwin's image repertoire, helping to conjugate the very idea of this revered—and often criticized—novelist and essayist to renewed effect. Like audiences of an earlier era, today's viewers become spellbound by this critical witness's fervent idiomatic eloquence and uncompromising vision.
Crichlow argues that Baldwin's journey is palpably not over—perhaps just beginning. The film makes certain his illuminating prose and penetrating critique continue to assume new meanings in the present, which in turn creates new imaginaries for the future. I Am Not Your Negro augers a significant pedagogical intervention, set to revive knowledge of Baldwin through multifarious viewings, but equally to jump-start the art of reading in schools and communities where a new generation may have little access otherwise to Baldwin's texts. Baldwin had a prophetic sense of his “appointment with the twenty-first century.” In innumerable ways, Raoul Peck's superbly realized I Am Not Your Negro has helped him honor that date.