By Danielle Miller
Raoul Peck sat among community members in the Wisconsin Room, located in UW-Milwaukee’s Student Union, to give some background on his growth as a director as well as his documentary film, “I Am Not Your Negro,” and his admiration for activists such as James Baldwin on Oct. 26.
UWM Professor Daniel Haumschild and curator of the MKE Film Black Lens Geraud Blanks were the moderators of the event.
Peck was asked about his role as an activist and his life behind the camera.
“I never call myself an activist, it always came from the outside,” said Peck. “I’m just a citizen, [and] I’m doing what every citizen should: standing up for democracy.”
Peck’s call to activism started by his fascination with American Cinema. Born in Haiti while the country was ruled under a dictatorship, Peck moved to the Congo when he was eight. He was inspired to speak out and fight for democracy through the lens of a camera.
“I came to film through politics,” said Peck, “Film was always a mean[s] to fight, to engage.”
Peck would later return to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake to document the damage from the earthquake and floods, and the failed relief effort. During the rebuilding stage, Peck felt the help Haiti had received was inappropriate after the U.S. sent marines instead of aid.
Peck said that through his experiences, it was time to “resurrect” Baldwin because “we were losing substance,” and that “absurd opinions can be equally heard without having backing.”
Peck worked with Baldwin’s sister, Gloria Baldwin, and the state of New York to research Baldwin and his life’s work.
“How do I bring a level of understanding, a level of knowledge, an instrument to what’s going on right now,” asked Peck about tackling Baldwin’s legacy. This was an important project for Peck because he “realized people were quoting Baldwin without knowing it.”
Peck said his project was meant to bring back Baldwin’s teachings into current issues and solidify his place in American history. His goal going into his documentary was to tackle Baldwin differently than those who came before him.
The impact of racism and “othering” in the country is one of the issues Peck discussed as a closing by discussing civil issues such as racism and women’s rights issues like Baldwin touched on.
Peck said his career was started when he was “confronted with the necessity to fight for democracy.”