Raoul Peck’s documentary I Am Not Your Negro uses the words of novelist and activist James Baldwin to explore the issues of race in America.
Born in Haiti, but raised in a variety of places including the Congo and the United States, Peck speaks to Fandor about how both his and Baldwin’s travels helped give them perspective on this country’s struggles.
“The more you travel, the more you start to experience different people and ways of thinking, and the more you learn about yourself,” says Peck. “That’s what Baldwin did. He understood America by leaving America. When your head is in the hole, it’s difficult to have enough distance to analyze what you’re going through. The pressure was impossible for him. Otherwise, he would have died. And he’s not exaggerating. You can die in different manners, because you kill yourself or come upon an accident and someone shoots at you. But you can also die out of anger, because you bump into a racist situation and react violently. Let’s say a cop pushes you, and instead of keeping silent and calm, you lunge at him. You’ll get killed. Those are real situations. When he left New York for Paris, this was an incredible discovery. A big part of the pressure left. Not that there’s no racism in France, but that’s another conversation. He was able to concentrate on his typewriter. He could find the time to think, and from a distance, he could have a sharper analysis of his own country. That was my privilege too. I grew up in the U.S., going to public school in Brooklyn, but I also went to school in France and the Congo. Going back and forth gave me a platform where I could see the bigger picture, not just a local point of view.”
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