Devastating. This is the best documentary I have seen this year. It’s a must-see, history done right.
James Baldwin sets out to tell the stories of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr., as well as his own journey. Based on the book, the film includes tons of the exact right archive material to pull it all together. The visuals flow, and the stakes are high.
This is a critique of America, and one I mostly agree with. It’s an ugly story of hatred, murder, racism, struggle. And it is not approved by some corporate board. This is the raw story of racism in modern America.
The director pulls current clips of Black Lives Matter paired with KKK from the 60s. The implication is that things haven’t changed, which is where I may have to part ways with the director. Things have changed in many major ways, but pockets of the old racist hatreds persist. And they persist in too many police departments, which still behave as if this was the 1960s. It’s an ugly, seemingly intractable cancer in this country.
There is also the drug war which turned the poor sections of cities into war zones for forty years now. With the government in bed with drug smugglers for much–if not all–of that time, there is a case to be made of deliberate covert war on America’s inner cities, which does not appear in the film.
One might consider the situation hopeless, but not Baldwin. He found himself “forced to be an optimist.” The movie keeps the events precise to those moments he fleshed out in his book.
James Baldwin was unflinching and articulate, someone to take seriously. He pulled no punches, and he was an intellectual leader of the civil rights movement. This is such an important and relevant encapsulation of black history that it should be part of school curricula.
It’s a comedy novel.
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