Raoul Peck refers to his Oscar-nominated documentary “I Am Not Your Negro” as “the impossible film.” After acquiring the rights to the iconic author James Baldwin’s final unfinished book 10 years ago, he had no clue if he could make it work because he was determined not to make a biography.
With about 30 pages, the director was at an impasse.
“Then [Baldwin’s sister] Gloria gave me his notes and that was it,” Peck said. “I had the perfect excuse to go through all his work and pull out everything I felt was important right now and find a place in that film.
“What I kept from the notes was essentially the redline about his three friends [Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Medgar Evers] which was the extraordinary idea to tell the story of America through their lives. He felt that was urgent for him to write about it. So, I kept the framing. The fact that they were wide apart either geographically or ideologically and ultimately how they became closer and closer together as Baldwin writes.
“And then their assassination for the same reason basically. The fact that they were leading a race issue towards a class issue, which made them dangerous for the system.”
Peck talked about how Baldwin challenged even the idea of the American dream: “He said, ‘How can we have a dream if it starts with a genocide and we don’t want to acknowledge this genocide?’ Those are powerful words. What he does is he brings this to your face. He says you need to face it because history is not the past. History is the present and you need to deal with it.”
A shocking image in the film unfolds early with the corpse of Malcolm X riddled with bullet holes. Explains Peck: “Nobody would dare show it, but I wanted that from the get go because I needed a very strong entry point. It’s a film also about death and assassination. These men did not deserve to be killed and this is how you look when you are dead. It’s not a game.”
Another surprise is the understated work of Samuel L. Jackson in telling the story.
“Even his agent did not recognize him,” Peck said. “That’s the thing. There is not a narrator. He did the work but he did it as an actor not as a speaker. I don’t know any documentary that took this approach before — to be totally in the head. It’s about Baldwin talking to us.”
As for what he hopes audiences will take from his film that opens in theaters Feb. 3, Peck would like to see the author’s works returning to the curriculum for younger people to learn about his existence.
“The renewed interest will help to have a fundamental discussion,” he said, “not about race but about changing this country and this power structure. Like Baldwin says, ‘White is a metaphor for power.’”
BLACK HISTORY MONTH: James Pickens Jr. (“Grey’s Anatomy”), Nicki Micheaux (“Animal Kingdom”) and Joseph Marcell (“The Fresh Prince of Bel Air”) star in A Word Theatre Tribute to Langston Hughes: Stories, Poems, Jazz & the Blues on Feb. 4, 7:30 p.m. at Forest Lawn – Hollywood Hills Memorial Park.
The Groundlings Theatre is bringing back “The Black Version” on Feb. 6. During the show, the audience will suggest a title of a popular film and the cast of all black comedy actors including Phil LaMarr (“Mad TV”), Gary Anthony Williams (“The Boondocks”) and Cedric Yarbrough (“Reno 911”) will improvise their vision.
CLIPPETTES: Oprah Winfrey is joining CBS’ “60 Minutes” this fall as a special correspondent filing stories that will “help facilitate real conversations between people from different backgrounds.: …
Method Man & Redman are laying it down at The Novo DTLA on Feb. 3 …
Antoine Fuqua has dropped out of directing the remake of “Scarface” to fast track his sequel to the Denzel Washington hit “The Equalizer” …
“Michael Colyar’s Momma,” the titled comedian’s one-man biographical dramatic play, will make its West Coast premiere Feb. 3 & 4 at the Barnsdall Theatre …
Lee Daniels has cast Eva Longoria as a foil for Lucious Lyon when “Empire” returns and Paris Jackson for a role in “Star” …
“Scream Queens” actress Keke Palmer is hosting a special event at 2 p.m. on Feb. 4 at Barnes & Noble at The Grove to promote her new book “I Don’t Belong To You” …
TC ON TV: Feb. 3 – “World Star TV” (MTV2): The first TV show from the famed website will feature a panel of cultural observers offering commentary on the most outrageous clips of the week. “ADD-TV” (MTV2): A new sketch comedy show from Russell Simmons.
Feb. 4 – “Austin City Limits” (PBS): CeCe Winans, St. Paul & The Broken Bones
Feb. 5 – “24: Legacy” (Fox): The reboot of this action series now starring Corey Hawkins (“Straight Outta Compton”) premieres after the Super Bowl before moving to Mondays.
Feb. 6 – “Independent Lens” (PBS): “Birth of a Movement” documents the 1915 protests by William M. Trotter, the first African American Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Harvard University and editor of The Guardian newspaper, against D.W. Griffith’s notoriously Ku Klux Klan-friendly film “The Birth of a Nation.” Spike Lee, Reginald Hudlin, DJ Spooky and Henry Louis Gates, Jr. offer their observations.
Feb. 7 – “Noisey” (Viceland): The Atlanta rap music scene is explored with T.I., Young Thug, Jeezy, Migos, Lil Yachty, 21 Savage, Metro Boomin’ and Killer Mike.
TASTY QUIP: “We have agency now as women. We can say what’s on our mind. Don’t focus on the problems. Focus on the solutions. What are we going to do to get past this? I think that’s why [“Hidden Figures”] is so timely. The beautiful thing in 2017 is that the majority is on the right side of history. Fear not. Fear and faith cannot coexist. Pick your battles. I choose faith.” – TARAJI P. HENSON at the SAG Awards
As featured in the Los Angeles Wave and Independent, Tasty Clips is one of the leading entertainment newspaper columns on the West Coast, serving nearly one million weekly readers. To reach Bill Vaughan, send email to email@example.com or via Twitter @tastyclips.