Searing doc is essential viewing for our time

I often make film recommendations in these pages that are just that: recommendations. I would like to take that a step further with the release of the documentary “I Am Not Your Negro.” I compel you to see it. It's essential.

The Oscar-nominated documentary — which is being screened in four showings at the Wexner Center for the Arts from Thursday through Saturday — is a virtual master class in the roots of modern race relations in America. Pairing nicely with its fellow Best Documentary Feature nominee ?Ava DuVernay's “13th,” it is a look at the African-American experience that will be familiar to that community and hopefully eye-opening to others.

If you want to understand why the racial divide is still an essential issue in America, you need to watch this.

Director Raoul Peck sets up his framework in the opening titles: “In June 1979, acclaimed author James Baldwin commits to a complex endeavor: tell his story of America through the lives of three of his murdered friends: Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X. Baldwin never got past his 30 pages of notes entitled: Remember this House.”

The words of Baldwin are read by Samuel L. Jackson, and Peck juxtaposes them with an array of footage that works in beautiful harmony with Baldwin's writing.

Beginning roughly around the desegregation of schools in the American South, we are confronted with the sort of images that remind us of an ugly past, like a young white student smiling broadly as he holds a sign that reads, “We won't go to school with negroes.”

Baldwin reflects on his memory of seeing images of Dorothy Counts, a 15-year-old who walked stoically into a high school in Charlotte, North Carolina, as she was being jeered at and spat upon. All because she wanted an equal chance to learn.

We follow Baldwin's journey alongside the three aforementioned icons of the Civil Rights Movement, all three murdered before the age of 40.

But, significantly, Peck chronicles this journey up to the present day. “I Am Not Your Negro” is not merely a historic tale; it's a living one. And as we see the roots of the hatred that has so recently revealed itself as part of our national identity, it's a tale that needs to be seen today.