The film's use of James Baldwin's unfinished writings (ably narrated by an unusually understated and quiet Samuel L. Jackson), public appearances by the author and other prominent civil-rights-era figures, and footage - both contemporary and from the period of Baldwin's life - are pretty masterfully woven into an unexpectedly urgent and relevant commentary on revolutionary and reactionary American racial politics. Several sequences of voiceover and montage are powerful enough to provoke an emotional reaction, especially those illustrating how truly close in both time and experience the upheaval of the mid-20th century is to the era of Obama and Trump. The interspersing of Baldwin's personal reflections of his life and his role as a public figure sharing a stage with Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X with his more philosophical societal observations is remarkably effective in providing a strong sense of the man, his work, and the context in which he and it existed.
Somewhat surprisingly, a substantial chunk of I Am Not Your Negro is given over to film criticism, with Baldwin's reflections on the representations of race in film from his childhood through adulthood presented over clips from the films. To me, the most striking element of these segments was Baldwin's description (I'm paraphrasing here) of the way even films critiquing racism and racial oppression still couldn't ever quite resist depicting their white protagonists as mistaken, ignorant, or confused but never actually evil, benefiting from systemic discrimination enforced by violence but doing so innocently and without true malice. After I Am Not Your Negro ended, I went to the second film of of my double feature next door, which of course was Hidden Figures, a film featuring what could be the Platonic ideal of that exact type of depiction of its white characters: