by Peter Johnson
Ark Lodge Cinemas in Columbia City had the highest ticket sales on Friday, February 17 for the Seattle market for the documentary I Am Not Your Negro. The documentary tells the story of African American author James Baldwin’s life and career using his own words.
According to Ark Lodge owner David McRae, the theater grossed more in Friday ticket sales for the documentary than all the five other Seattle area theaters that screened the film. The independent theater beat out three corporate theaters owned by AMC and Regal.
Friday’s performance was driven in part by a community Q&A about the film featuring Beacon Hill artist Gabriel Teodros and local author Georgia McDade that took place after the 7:45 pm screening.
Ark Lodge performed better than SIFF Uptown on Friday, and came in a narrow second to the theater on the weekend overall. The Emerald, which saw a matinee showing of Negro on Monday, can confirm that interest in the film is still strong.
The film centers around Baldwin’s voice and his incisive and candid writing. Baldwin’s words are all the audience hears throughout the 90-minute documentary. The writing, drawn from Baldwin’s notes from an unfinished late-1970s book that would have chronicled the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, is read aloud by actor Samuel L. Jackson.
The planned book would have broken the history of the movement into three phases, each delineated by the assassination of one of its leaders: Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr.
Baldwin was a friend and admirer of each of the murdered activists—he was particularly close with Evers—and writes emotionally and personally about his memories of his fallen comrades. The notes Jackson reads in the film touch on the lives of all three men.
Jackson’s narration is interspersed with footage of Baldwin’s television appearances in the ‘60s and ‘70s and images from the time. Jackson conveys an older Baldwin’s dismay and world-weariness without distracting from or undermining the younger Baldwin’s energy or passion.
Peter Johnson is a Columbia City resident
Featured image: Alex Garland