tv Tavis Smiley PBS July 6, 2017 6:30am-7:01am PDT
good evening from los angeles i'm tavis smiley this year's awards may be all about la la land but one is helping to diversify the sermceremony. "i am not your negro" reveals the writer book of james baldwin through the lens of raoul peck who will tell us about his own life escaping the congo and bureau of brooklyn. we're glad you joined us, detector raoul peck coming up right now.
♪ >> announcer: and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. ♪ i am pleased to be joined by raoul peck director of the oscar-nominated documentary "i am not your negro," i love saying that, "i am not your negro." acclaimed film narrated by samuel l jackson is written by
late, great james baldwin. he is on another talk show host with one of my favorites dick cavet, before we get this conversation started let's get a taste of this literary icon. >> i don't know whether the labor union and their bosses hate me doesn't matter but i know i'm not in their union. i don't know if they are against black people but they keep me in the ghetto. i don't know if the board of education hate black people but i know got to get my children to read. now this is the evidence. you want me to risk myself, my life, my woman, my children, on some idealism which you will which you are sure exists in america which i have never seen. >> i have always been a james baldwin fan. but my respect for him grew exponentially after seeing this brilliant masterpiece of a documentary that you've done. it's my favorite of the year.
but i loved it because there was so much footage of baldwin i had never seen. you seen that clip, that clip right there says it all. there's so many black folk in this era of political correctness who are afraid to speak the truth to the powerless must less the powerful. >> exactly. >> we had debate about negros running in to see donald trump. you know they ain't saying nothing to him while they're in there so this debate is timely at the moment. but here's baldwin talking to dick cavet and laying it out on national television what did you make when you started coming to these clips? >> well, i knew baldwin already. i grew up with bullpen baaldwin. i read him early on in my life. he structured my brain. he teached me how to deconstruct hollywood how to watch. the news. how to be a man. i knew that footage, i seen some of it, but more we worked on the archives i would have loved to
include everything. >> yeah. >> i could have done ten hour like some others. but the film had to be the ultimate baldwin. because as you probably know we were losing track of him. you know somewhere pushing him outside as has been, although baldwin is probably one of the greatest writers of this country, black or white and i knew how important those words were, how they changed my life and i felt it was necessary that the new generation get also an opportunity to be confronted with those words. and by the way, not only the black population but also the white population because he's speaking to them as well. what he called the hitless white majority. because they are part of the problem, if not the main part of
the problem because we only seen our struggle as only our responsibility. we are the ones that have to defy the power. but baldwin said, no, you invented jim crow. you invented racism. how come we are the ones to have to get rid of it. you have responsibility. take your share as well. >> i want to get to the document, specifically how you made it, it's brilliantly done. to the point you made a moment ago, raoul, what do you think, why do you think baldwin was starting to fade to black, so to speak, and now even before it comes out, but especially now, everyone's quoted baldwin. this moment baldwin is experiencing reminds me of the moment malcolm x he was disappearing and spike puts out a film and malcolm now having a renaissance so baldwin is having a renaissance now.
but why was baldwin being pushed to the margins? >> for many reasons, one was baldwin himself was a broken man after all those killings and he was very isolated politically. and the other aspect is that they killed all of the leadership of the people he grew up with. not only martin luther king and not only malcolm x but all of the leadership of the black men, in prison, others in exile, et cetera. and they did one thing that was very intelligent to build up monuments to give us black history month. martin luther king day. to put statue in front of us as if everything is okay now and we got lazy. and they have also been what i would call -- somehow got lazy and forgot the struggle had to continue until everybody can profit from those
changes and so that we have now a younger generation in the streets that basically have to learn everything from zero, basically. that's when i felt like voices like baldwin. voices like the late martin luther king, the last two years of his life, the last year of malcolm x, those speeches you have hardly access to them and this is what we need to bring back and baldwin is key to that because he's probably the only one who has that kind of universal analysis of the system in our history. what he calls our common history. because there's not two different histories. it's the same. we all have responsibility in that. and baldwin is classic. so it means, obligation. you need to know baldwin. >> true. >> it's part of your general culture. it's part of your general, now
you know, to be a citizen in this country and know your history is also to know baldwin. >> you were a citizen of haiti. >> yeah. >> i think in '61 you escaped with your parents. >> had to go to congo. >> we'll come back to that perhaps in a second, but you started reading baldwin you said very early, i think around 15 or so you discovered baldwin. >> a little later, before i went to college. >> what were you seeing on the page? what were you connecting to in baldwin's writings as a young man. >> let me give you an example. >> sure. >> like many youngsters i grew up watching american film. john wayne. doris day. musical. for me that was the world. that was what we would be even though there were no black faces on the screen or when they were they were suffrages. but somehow it was the view of the world. the dominant cinema.
everywhere in the world. and when i went to congo year to rejoin my father who had left one year before, i really thought that in the tarmac i would see a lot of african is people laughing, and chanting and thinking it would be a remake of "tarzan" and of course that was not the case. those moments where you feel there's something wrong about the image of the world, the way they are giving it to you. i was of course very young. i didn't know what words to put in that. but i felt une uneasy. because i was confronting a wall. something i had no explanation for. and it took a few years more when i started having a ambivalent relationship with dominant cinema, which is basically american cinema.
and baldwin is the first one to give me some sort of structure in order to understand what's going on and that film is not innocent. film is carrying a lot of ideology, it's forging an image not oath of tnly of the rest of world but also of yourself. as a young man i didn't have many examples, like this is me. even when there was, like sidney portier guess who comes to dinner, i remember very vividly, of course as a young man i was proud to see is this handsome man who knows how to have the right moves and how to drink coffee. >> and from the island like you. >> of course and we have the same kind of education, to behave, and a surgeon, a doctor
who works for an international organization, and so, we as many artists my age we were proud of course to see this black man on the screen. at the same time there was something very strange because in fact we didn't realize is that they were giving a model fou for us, until you can equal this, you know, you have no place in the game. >> the model negro. >> the model negro. >> yeah, yeah. >> so it was something people don't know, baldwin was one of the phenomenal film critic. he did a phenomenal job in basically deconstructing hollywood. i've had film critics interviewing me telling me i will never be able to watch certain shows the same way again. because you get used to that. if you have no reason to question what you're seeing you
just swallow it. you know. and are not even aware of what you're also swallowing. >> let me ask you, because i promised i would, some questions, if i can about the way you did this. to me what makes it so brilliant, i've never seen a film from beginning to end that are only the words of the subject. every word in this film is baldwins. tell me why that became your frame, number one, and number two how you went about finding oug all of this footage that could tell the story. when you placed it and pieced it, beautiful to watch you in any way make it a narrative with a through line. >> there are no secrets. first i knew this film was the impossible film. to decide from the get go, stick to baldwin words nothing else. >> no talking heads.
>> no commentary. >> it's all baldwin. >> exactly to confront it directly with baldwin word and confront without interpreters. i know it was cinematically complicated. i knew also i would need a voice where samuel jackson's voice came into play. so we had a team. but also he was speaking of something i grew up in and i had to add my own mythology of 30 years of growing up with america cinema p so when baldwin is speaking of those films i had seen most of them. we did research when he spoke about john wayne and doris day we would download everything and go through it and start choosing
clips and exchanging them, playing with them. because the thing with that kind of montage film is that you can't just illustrate words, you have to find a way that the clip itself means something that is symbolically or metaphorically saying something about the whole thing. and also when you put the words with the clip they compose something else and gives you a third level and that you can also change with the music or the absence of music. or i work on this film as i would work on the narrative. if as i would write a screen play. once i had the words i knew that was the fundamental of everything. that's when you're experience, your artistic ideas comes in and also time. we need time. so i knew i had to produce this film.
you know, there's always behind us telling us go, just make the movie, don't worry about us, it's not about movie. normally that never happens in our industry to havee access to whole body of works, published, unpublished material, photos, private letters, so i knew with this i better come up with a great film. i have no choice. >> you mentioned samuel jackson who in the places we don't hear baldwin voice out of his own mouth jackson -- inhabits the character. i raise that, i love samuel jackson, he's been on the program number of times. we all know that yell that samuel does it is that yell
thing he does. and i because i had done my research knew that he had done the voice, had i not known that in advance wouldn't have known that was samuel jackson. you got something out of him, the way he lays on that, and he doesn't get in the way. >> exactly. >> it's the most beautiful, powerful, poignant thing i've ever heard samuel do in this way. i thought he did a marvelous job. >> well he made it personal. >> yeah that. >> you couldn't make any imaginary it has to be raw and direct. >> and there's a flow it to it. h baldwin's voice is so distinct, when you go from baldwin to samuel jackson it flowed.
>> because he caught the soul of baldwin, not mimicking him or trying to be like him, it's about catching the soul of this man with his words and sam was moved by those words. we knew it was about coming from your guts. yeah. >> and you have to stick to that and to have the humbleness also to submit to those words. don't put yourself, as a film maker, i put myself behind. i push baldwin in front. and he did the same thing. >> when you're in the edit room and looking at all of the footage on the screen in front of you, listening it to it, how did you not get chill bumps every day listening to what baldwin was saying, editing it in realtime, all of what he was saying was as relevant then as it is today. >> well, that's the craziness of this project. that's the first project where i
started it because i felt that that voice was necessary, was urgent and the more we were working on it it was beginning to be scary. >> surreal. >> sometimes we would look at each other, my editor and myself like, no, that's not it. and then you mix the pictures with it. you know, with ferguson happened, you know, first day, second day third day i said my god i need to send this over there because something is happening. i don't know what it is. what it will be. but symbolically i think we need to be there. so we did that, you know, and then when those young men start to be killed, not that it started now but we started having video about that. and that reality i already had the words, the words where it says those young men have been killed at the age where they
were too young to have done anything. that phrase was there already. and to have now the pictures that goes with it. those pictures of young people, you know, 12, 13, 16, you know, being killed. so it was a very crazy situation throughout editing. >> how would you, i want to say compare, i'm not sure contrast is that much better but lack of better word, how would you contrast reading baldwin on the page and seeing baldwin on the screen? you know what i'm getting it at? what did you take different from him on screen versus his words on paper? >> crazy enough it's both. you know, i can't prefer one to another. both have their own quality. >> yeah. >> when you see him on screen what you see is a man who is totally dedicated to his thought.
and it's not just an intelle intellectual talking words, but his whole body, his whole human experience. he does it in a very humanistic way. it's rare somebody who can look you in the eyes and tell you the truth and at the same time say i love you. it's hard to do and say and baldwin knew how to do that. he never felt like he's insulting me. no. you felt i better listen because this man is really telling me something important and his words, you know, my experience reading baldwin, you know, usually there are books you start for some reason you under line a paragraph but with baldwin you just start, it's the whole book. >> exactly. you're baldwin book must look like mine. lines everywhere. for me, i take your point.
but i ask is that question because when i read baldwin on the page there's obviously a truth he's telling that is unsettling. it's unhousing. no matter how inconvenient it might be it's so sub versive sometimes people can't handle it. >> it is. >> that's just reading it on page. but what i saw on your screen in the film was a boldness. one thing to write that truth but another thing to go on tv and speak that truth. >> absolutely. >> and seeing all these clips and how boldly he would put the truth out there. >> and speak so elkwently without any paper. and responding to questions you don't know today how you would respond intelligently to those questions. not only that he would put you on your place and send you back to do some more study. there are really rare people who
are capable of doing that. the legacy he's leaving us is incredible. that would have been a crime to let him slide away like he was beginning to slide away. the idea of that film is to really make the ultimate film so that today no school, no university cannot not have a baldwin class. not teaching him as a classic and important part of the society. >> i have two and half minutes, what is baldwin saying to us in this present moment? >> well, there is many things, but one of the most important i think is he asked us to face the reality you know, stop being in denial. that nothing will change until we can face it. and we have a game in this country not to face reality.
we prefer to create two parallel worlds that never mix, you know. that's what we do with the image of doris day and gary cooper dancing and ray charles singing, and we continue on and on with different set of heroes and everything. we gave the black community something. gave native americans something. we gave women something. but we make sure they keep divided. we have a president today that is a phenomenal divider of this country and we need to wake up and again build alliance, talk to each other, in a real conversation and make sure that we come from the same history. there are not two histories. we need to recognize this dream is built on two againo sigenoci
was not afraid to speak up his mind. today there's little space we can have that conversation. imagine today, 2017, people are fragile, they are insecure, and they are afraid to speak up their mind and as baldwin as far as i'm concerned as well, you know, we don't have time to take prisoners. we need now to move on with our life and confront it. whoever doesn't want to confront it, that's their problem, but we can't be losing time and the young generation i think understands that. i just hope they have the wisdom and the long-term vision to know that the sight will be very long and it's just the kbbeginning a there's no reason to be afraid today whoever is the president of this country.
>> we'll leave it right there. fine director of brilliant documentary called "i am not your negro" the life and times of james baldwin. one of the most under appreciated writers in the history of this country but i think this documentary is going to change that, and james baldwin is about to under go a significant renaissance. thank you for being here. >> thank you for having me. >> that's our show for tonight. thanks for watching and as always keep the faith. ♪ >> announcer: for more information on today's show visit tavis smiley at pbs.org. >> hi i'm tavis smiley join me next time for conversation with grammy award winning singer and songwriter michael bolton, that's next time, see you then.
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