Bolstered by a 2017 Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary, Raoul Peck's critically-acclaimed documentary "I Am Not Your Negro", continues to expand its reach, marching its way up the all-time USA box office charts with a $6.6 million take so far, which is good enough for a number 33 ranking of the highest grossing documentaries of all time.
The list is topped by provocateur Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" which grossed $119 million over the course of its entire theatrical run in 2004.
A couple of things to keep in mind; first, "Fahrenheit 9/11" was something of an outlier. Documentaries just don't earn that kind of box office. Not even close to that. It's the only documentary to have grossed over $100 million. The next film on the list is "March of the Penguins" with $77 million - a significant $40+ million separating number 1 from number 2.
And secondly, the vast majority of films on the list (75% of them) grossed between $2 and $9 million, putting "I Am Not Your Negro" just above the average.
Finally, it's worth pointing out that "I Am Not Your Negro's" widest release has been just 320 screens thus far - nowhere near the 2,000 to 3,500 screens that most of the films in the top 10 were released on.
So, with all that in mind, a $6.6 million gross - especially given the film's challenging subject matter - is noteworthy. And it's not done yet, as it continues to open in new cities around the country, expanding its reach. This Friday (March 31) for example, it opens on 11 new screens, with plans for continuous expansion through June. So by the end of its run, the film should obviously surpass its current tally, and move up on the list of highest grossing documentaries of all time.
It's also Raoul Peck's highest grossing film in the USA by a wide margin. His still woefully underseen great work, "Lumumba" (2001), grossed $352,00 at the box office. One can only hope that the critical and commercial success of "I Am Not Your Negro" helps raise Peck's industry profile, affording him even more opportunities to make the kinds of films he wants to. He's most certainly a necessary voice.
Finally, I should mention that there's a companion book to the documentary titled "I Am Not Your Negro: A Companion Edition to the Documentary Film Directed by Raoul Peck," which was published by Vintage International, and is currently available for purchase. And just like the film, reviews of the book have been strong, with words like "Impressionistic" and "Powerful" used to describe it, and the general consensus being that it's not a primer for readers unfamiliar with James Baldwin, more like a tribute to a project that Baldwin himself didn't live to see completed.
To compose "I Am Not Your Negro," Peck mined James Baldwin’s published and unpublished oeuvre, selecting passages from his books, essays, letters, notes, and interviews that are every bit as incisive and pertinent now as they have ever been. Weaving these texts together, Peck brilliantly imagines the book that Baldwin never wrote. In his final years, Baldwin had envisioned a book about his three assassinated friends, Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King. His deeply personal notes for the project have never been published before. Peck’s film uses them to jump through time, juxtaposing Baldwin’s private words with his public statements, in a blazing examination of the tragic history of race in America.
This book contains more than 40 black-and-white images, and is 144 pages paperback. Pick up a copy here.
Why a film on Baldwin? Peck's response: "Because Baldwin is my life... I started reading Baldwin when I was 14 or 15, and I realized as an adult a lot of the things I was saying came from him."
Aramide Tinubu interviewed Peck about the film (read it here) and also reviewed "I Am Not Your Negro" (read her thoughts here).
Magnolia continues to release theatrical playdates for the film, including this weekend's expansion opening locations. So check out the below schedule and make note of when the film will be coming to a theater near you, if it hasn't already. You'll find playdates through June: