In the acclaimed documentary “I Am Not Your Negro,” director Raoul Peck takes the words from an unfinished book by legendary author James Baldwin and gives them life in the voice of actor Samuel L. Jackson. And there is a jarring moment in this stunning 93-minute examination of race in the United States that has stayed with me since I saw it at a screening last month.
A rosy-cheeked, perfectly coiffed Doris Day frets in her kitchen with champagne glasses and a bottle of bubbly in the 1961 movie “Lover Come Back” while a sentimental song about love plays in the background. But as the lush music continues, the scene fades to a succession of harrowing black-and-white photos of lynched black men and a black woman. What made these gruesome murders all the more grotesque were the white onlookers posing for pictures under trees festooned with “strange fruit.” Those faces peer back at you as Jackson speaks Baldwin’s powerful words.
You cannot lynch me and keep me in ghettos without becoming something monstrous yourselves. And, furthermore, you give me a terrifying advantage. You never had to look at me. I had to look at you. I know more about you than you know about me. Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.