Thursday 4 May 2017

On Blu-ray - David Hare welcomes Raoul Peck's biographical doco on James Baldwin I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO

(At left) A confected but dominant image of the 60s white American idyll, contradicted on the next screen by the formidable black activist, intellectual, author and human being, James Baldwin in an image from the same era. The screens come from Raoul Peck's Oscar winning "reconstruction" of Baldwin's unfinished project, Remember this House, I am not your Negro (2016) which is now available in the USA on Blu-ray and DVD from Magnolia.

While Remember this House was abandoned after a difficult start, it is almost a propos the cause as Baldwin's ongoing life work in fiction and live media remains - still - one of the most potent running commentaries on the centrality of racism to the American dream. Baldwin was a personally liberating author to me and many others as a gay teenage man if only for his two semi-autobiographical gay and race themed 1960s' novels Giovanni's Room and Another Country, the latter one of so many major works of literature banned by the then Australian censor until the very first cracks in the white Australian puritanism of the late 60s under then Minister for Customs and Excise, Don Chipp.

That banning was based on the matter of fact depiction of homosexuality, even more than the race related text, which Peck's film reminds us of so potently with so many images of still breathtaking vileness: Rodney King's bashing by the LAPD, murder after murder of black men, beatings, a litany of violence from white to black that seems, if media be truthfully reflective to be even worse today than it was back then in my youth, when the civil rights movement had gained traction., Along with other genuinely radical movements like the Panthers, and other coalitionists with the hard left. There is an urgently moving parallel here with the early days of the original completely non bourgeois gay liberation from the late 60s.

It has to be true to say that the black civil rights movement has been the genesis for the rise of both feminism and the birth of the original post Mattachine Society gay lib. What I view as the dissipation of both gay and women's politics to the present day into an ocean of shallow, bourgeois identity political banalities is to me a betrayal of original principles, which were themselves grounded in the challenge to the orthodoxy of - spit it out - modern day neoliberal capitalism with its promise of ultimate consumerist anaesthesia to those who play the neoliberal Kool Aid game of submission to the current end of days version of capitalism.

The world needs Baldwin and many more like him right now, as the currently vacant space to the left of politics struggles for meaning without mooring or direction. Baldwin's and black America's fights from 60 plus years ago have to be the example, the truth, the only way. Peck's film is a must see manifesto for the future. Not to mention a tribute to this irreplaceable man.

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