“The line which separates a witness from an actor is a very thin line indeed”
“The line which separates a witness from an actor is a very thin line indeed”- is a visual representation of the James Baldwin quote: “The line which separates a witness from an actor is a very thin line indeed; nevertheless, the line is real.” In this quote, Baldwin (Harlem-born author and activist) is referring to two types of individuals in a social movement – those who strictly follow the dogma of various factions within the movement and those who “move as largely and freely as possible to the write the story and get it out.”
In the film, I am Not Your Negro, the quote is paired with Baldwin’s explanation for why he was not a part of the most vocal organizations in the civil rights movement. He was not a black Muslim and was not a part of the Christian church. He was not a part of the NAACP because he believed they were “fatally entangled with black class distinctions, or illusions of the same.” His lack of allegiance to a particular faction allowed him the freedom to observe from different vantage points - both inside the movement and from the outside looking in. The Jenga tower serves as a visual metaphor for this conversation. Some blocks in the tower are free to be removed and re-added to different places in the structure (witnesses) while others are rigidly tied to the stability and support of the tower (actors).