Phenomenal Man: Samuel L. Jackson Channels James Baldwin in ‘I Am Not Your Negro’


If I don’t get to watch another film this year apart from Raoul Peck’s Academy Award nominated documentary I Am Not Your Negro, I think I’ll be cinematically satisfied for the entire 2017. Yes, you read me right. It’s. That. Good.

Why make such a strong statement, you may wonder? Because the writing of James Baldwin, the great African American author who defines the Civil Rights movement in America along with Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Medgar Evers — and of course Rosa Parks and Dorothy Counts among many others — is as current and crucial today as it was in the 1950s and ‘60s.

In I Am Not Your Negro, Peck manages to weave archival photos, video and even the odd space footage into a beautifully watchable, mesmerizing, can’t-tear-your-eyes-away-from-the-screen masterpiece of understanding, drawn out straight from Baldwin’s writing. Samuel L. Jackson narrates by reading from the 30 pages of notes for Remember This House, a book Baldwin never completed where he wanted to tell the story of his three murdered friends — MLK, Malcolm X and Evers. At times I had to remind myself that it wasn’t Baldwin talking me through his fascinating life, but Jackson instead. If ever someone channeled the spirit, courage and great humanity of the author, it’s the beloved Hollywood actor.

I Am Not Your Negro is currently in theaters in the US. Thankfully, European audiences will soon get a sneak peak of it as well, when the film screens at Berlinale.

I believe this is a crucial film for our here and now because we are witnessing what happens when that often used quote comes true: ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’

When Samuel L. Jackson recently attended the Dubai International Film Festival to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the organizers, I sat in his presence with a group of journalists, and here are the highlights of our talk.


Does acting fulfill you in the same way as when you started your career?

Samuel L. Jackson: Yeah for sure. It’s something that I think about all the time. I constantly get up and wanna do it, constantly searching for projects and new scripts, imagining myself inside that script or not inside it.

What excites you about…