2014 Blind Spot series: Malcolm X (1992)

I went in knowing next to nothing about the man Malcolm X (1925–1965). Based on Alex Haley’s and Malcolm X’s “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” (1965), what we get is a period film about the ups and downs of his life. A history lesson about key moments that shaped his character.
In fact director Spike Lee urged kids to cut school to see his movie, believing that “X” provides just as much (or more) education.
The name ‘Malcolm X’ was a rejection of the ‘Little’ surname (given his family by white slave owners). The X representing the unknown name of his African ancestors and their culture that had been lost during slavery.
To his admirers “X” was a courageous advocate for the rights of blacks, a man who indicted white America in the harshest terms for its crimes against black Americans; detractors accused him of preaching racism and violence.

The film had me from the first frame, when we listen to “X” talk about injustice with the American flag burning up in the background.

Great performance by Denzel Washington, when you watch archive clips of the real Malcolm X, you realize how spot on especially Washington’s voice is. Also great direction by Spike Lee, a truly epic film, and despite its over 3 hours long, I was never bored.

The only minor complaint is the music that plays over the dialogue scenes, so it can be hard to hear every word. Even though I disagree with “X’s”  religious beliefs and thoughts on the separation of the black and whites, it’s still an entertaining and enlightening film. A complex and flawed man, who kept changing, which makes it tough to pin him down. I’d admit it’s human to keep evolving as a person, so I don’t see anything wrong with his transformation. In a way brave to change and have the courage to see things differently, especially as others could doubt him in those moments. You could argue his story is about living a full life by being open to change. How that attitude is inspirational and a learning curve, yet can also cause self-doubt and conflict.
Perhaps Malcolm X’s message was too vague anf controversial for him to achieve the global respect that Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela both did, their non-violent and anti-apartheid positions are far easier to fathom. In the case of Malcolm X, you have to research to comprehend where he stands, and the film is a good place to start. You really ought to watch Spike Lee’s movie several times, since there’s plenty to digest on first viewing, both history and cinematic flourishes. I’m tempted to watch the 1972 documentary narrated by James Earl Jones, to learn even more.
Nominated for 2 Oscars. Denzel Washington for Best Actor in a Leading Role, and Best Costume Design.

The original director was going to be Norman Jewison. He withdrew due to outside pressure demanding a black film-maker.
Malcolm X (1992) was the first non-documentary film that was given permission to film in Mecca. The film’s 2nd unit filmed all the scenes at Mecca. Spike Lee did not accompany them because he is not a Muslim; only Muslims are allowed to enter Mecca.

Rating 9/10

Agree or disagree? Have you seen Malcolm X or other Spike Lee films? Are you a fan of his style? 

13 thoughts on “2014 Blind Spot series: Malcolm X (1992)

  1. The fact that Lee urged kids to skip school to see this movie makes me smile. When he says it's a more educational use of their time than a day in school, he may be right.

    I read The Autobiography of Malcolm X in college, and I finally saw the movie this year. The film follows the book quite closely — both are fascinating. I love the fact that Malcolm X was a complicated and morally ambiguous man.

    In school, when it comes to civil rights, kids are offered sanitized and sometimes slightly inaccurate stories about Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr., in my opinion. For example, I was an adult before I knew that Rosa Parks wasn't just “too tired to give up her seat on the bus.” Or that she wasn't the first but the second African American woman who deserved headlines for refusing to give up her seat to a white person. (Young Claudette Colvin did it first, but she was an unwed mom, and civil rights leaders feared negative publicity.) I think Malcolm X's life and work should be taught alongside Dr. King's, to compare the Christian civil rights movement with the Black Muslim movement, and peaceful resistance with the more militant approach. Both are compelling stories.

    Thanks for the great review!


  2. @thevoid99: I’ve seen Do The Right Thing, I personally prefer Malcolm X (1992), though there is lots to admire about his 1989 film as well.


  3. @Irene McKenna: Agree we sometimes get the sanitized versions in school. As I said, Malcolm X I didn’t know about, so was interesting to become acquainted with his life story. Looks like you know more about these famous African American civil rights people than I do! Yes, good to learn about the various angles, King was not the only important one. I’ve heard the autobiography is even better than the movie, so worth considering getting hold of.
    You’re welcome!


  4. @Chip Lary: Good to know you are a fan of the film as well! The even-handedness, I liked that aspect. I think you're right, that the filmmakers are not favoring one side or group over another.


  5. Yeah, I'm with you nearly 100% here. Spike Lee is not a filmmaker that I always connect with, but this is one of his finest efforts IMHO. Glad you saw it for your Blind Spot!


  6. I haven't seen this one and like you I know nothing about him nor the history on his cause. Being a person of color living in a primarily white community, you'd think I'd be more into films about racism but I'm not. I am curious to see Denzel's performance tho, even if I don't agree w/ the character's worldview.

    But heh, in regards to music that plays over the dialogue scenes, that's so annoying! I hate when they do that, esp when the music is overly manipulative to get you to FEEL something.


  7. @Ruth: Alex at And So It Begins told me on twitter that it’s common in Spike Lee films to have music over the dialogue, so subtitles is the way to go I guess. To me not done in an overly manipulative way in Malcolm X, wasn’t sappy and cringeworthy, which is why I still give the film a very high score of 9/10. Denzel is excellent, he was seldom better.


  8. Glad you loved it, Chris! It's one of my favorite Spike Lee films, and Washington is flawless here. Incidentally, I've seen it a few times, and it holds up very well on repeat viewings.


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