Director Raoul Peck takes African-American author James Baldwin’s notes for Remember This House — his unfinished “story of America” as told through the lives of slain activists Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and Medgar Evars — and fashions them into a freeform meditation on race and America, read masterfully and mutedly by Samuel L. Jackson. The notes are just that — beginnings, asides, details, generalizations. So it’s no surprise that they tend to sound imprecise in comparison to the clips of Baldwin’s far more polished public appearances, sometimes to the point of distraction. Wait a minute... But the inchoate character of the raw material gives Peck room to move: to bring the expatriate Baldwin back to America, to carry a 20th-century writer’s thought into the 21st Century, and to emphasize the fact that, like Baldwin’s book, America’s struggle with race remains unfinished. The direction is indulgent and at times overwrought: just because Baldwin regards Doris Day as a “grotesque appeal to innocence” doesn’t mean it works to play her lovestruck crooning over the image of a lynched corpse. But even if I Am Not Your Negro is not a great movie, it does have the feel of an important cultural artifact. As Baldwin notes, he was an American — bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh — and that simple truth demands a reckoning. (2016) — Matthew Lickona
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