Although it’s historically no stranger to racial controversy, Moab is typically far removed from the hurly-burly political, racial and social turmoil found in other, more populated areas of the country. However, many local residents are still concerned about these issues.
At 7 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 19, the Grand County Public Library will partner with the Utah Film Center to offer a free screening of “I Am Not Your Negro” at Star Hall, at 159 E. Center St.
Grand County Library Assistant Jessie Magleby, who helps coordinate the screenings with the Utah Film Center, said that a community member recommended “I Am Not Your Negro” during a previous movie night.
“Whenever possible, the library tries to accommodate these suggestions, as our patrons know best what they’d like to see,” Magleby said. “After looking into it, we decided it would be a good fit for our audience, considering current events and the fact that so many in Moab are concerned with social justice.”
The film has garnered much attention since its release. It was nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the 2017 Academy Awards. It won Best Documentary at the 2017 Los Angeles Film Critics Association and an Audience Award at the 2016 Toronto Film Festival.
Raoul Peck, a political activist and filmmaker, took an unfinished manuscript by the late James Baldwin, an American writer and civil rights activist, to create the documentary narrated by Samuel L. Jackson. It uses historical footage and commentary to offer a modern perspective on American racial and social issues.
“This film is an electrifying examination of one of the questions preoccupying America today: How do we move beyond our legacy of slavery, racism and inequity?” Utah Film Center Film Program Coordinator Davey Davis said. “The film brings Baldwin’s words to life, and when you hear his observations on racial hatred, it’s easy to imagine they were written today, rather than decades ago. It is a searing film, because it is clear how much Baldwin loves this country. He critiques it with honesty, compassion and intensity.”
Magleby said that Peck has transformed this work into a many-layered documentary, drawing connections between the fight for civil rights in the 50s, 60s and 70s and our current struggles today.
According to a New York Times review of the film, in the introductory note to his first collection of essays, “Notes of a Native Son,” Baldwin wrote, “I want to be an honest man and a good writer.”
As a young man, Baldwin became a minister and a public figure, but he eventually left the church that he perceived as hypocritical and racist. “I Am Not Your Negro” uses Baldwin’s writing for narration and shows footage of him speaking to offer an honest perspective of American history.
In her comments about the film, Magleby referenced The New York Times review, which goes on to say, “Though … James Baldwin … has been dead for nearly 30 years, you would be hard-pressed to find a movie that speaks to the present moment with greater clarity and force, insisting on uncomfortable truths and drawing stark lessons from the shadows of history.”
“We hope it will bring the words of a relatively unknown historical voice to life, and give people the tools to talk about a complex issue that’s at the center of our country’s dialog,” Davis said. “I see parallels between this film and ‘No Man’s Land’ from last month. Both point the camera at often underrepresented voices in America who feel the root of our country’s problems are misunderstood and require radical action.”
“I Am Not Your Negro” is not the first social justice film to be shown in Moab.
According to Magleby, past library/Utah Film Center screenings that touch on racial issues have included “Selma,” “12 Years a Slave,” “The House I Live In” and “Fruitvale Station.”
“The Grand County Public Library’s partnership with the Utah Film Center continues to be a great benefit to the Moab community,” Magleby said. “We are able to bring a wide range of documentaries and feature films from all over the world, focusing on award-winners, the arts and themes of social justice.”
“We work with our partners at the Grand County Library to bring films that otherwise won’t play in Moab, especially films that the community requests,” Davis added. “As soon as this film premiered at film festivals, we had many people request it. We haven’t seen many (documentaries) that are so relevant to present-day conversations, so we were glad to make it happen.”
“I Am Not Your Negro” comes to Star Hall on Oct. 19
“This film is an electrifying examination of one of the questions preoccupying America today: How do we move beyond our legacy of slavery, racism and inequity?”
When: Thursday, Oct. 19, at 7 p.m.
Where: Star Hall, 159 E. Center St.
For more information, go to: utahfilmcenter.org/events/category/moab/upcoming/.