Writer’s Note: Why am I writing a review about a movie released 28 years ago? Well first, I’d never seen this movie until last night. Second, I think there are some lessons to be learned by watching, even all these years later. Third, it seems there’s still a deep divide on the way we perceive people and history. Even though we grow up in the same country, things are not always as clear as Black and White.
MALCOLM X (MOVIE REVIEW)
This is a hastily-written short review I feel compelled to share.
I have no clue as to why I’d never seen Malcolm X, the biopic of the iconic Afro-American civil rights political activist who was assassinated in 1965. An oversight, perhaps. It was on TCM last night, so I watched the final 90 minutes.
Directed by Spike Lee, this is clearly a very personal project for virtually all who were associated with the film. Released in 1992 to nearly universal critical acclaim, this film may even be more important now than it was initially shown.
Indeed, Malcolm X never reached the pantheon of inclusion along with other political thrillers or biographies, perhaps unintentionally revealing the continuing divide and misunderstandings on race in America. I believe if this film had been about a white activist/hero, it would have been up there with movies like Patton. But we rarely hear Malcolm X mentioned in the same breath as films on so-called “American heroes.”
Side Note: Consider the way Malcolm X is remembered by Blacks versus Whites. Even today, Whites do not view Malcolm X favorable, proving we will have a long way to go. Read More: MALCOLM X REMEMBER FAVORABLY BY BLACKS BUT NOT BY WHITES
Denzel Washington is outstanding in the title role. Mesmerizing even. (He lost the Best Actor Oscar to Al Pacino that year for Scent of a Woman that year). The characteristics are subtle, but Washington disguises his real NY accent well and speaks identically to Malcolm Little (ne “X”), who was actually from the Midwest (Omaha, NE). It’s uncanny how much Washington sounds and speaks with the same dictatorial syncopation as Malcolm X. These are little details, but when you hear the nuances, it’s remarkable.
Predictably, the film diefies the controversial leader, but it also reveals the flaws of its subject. Malcolm X lived a very modest life, which caused considerable disharmony at home (he was married and had five children). He also made a number of inflammatory statements that aren’t exactly endearing, including the infamous “chickens came home to roost” comment after the JFK assassination. But given the context of his life and greater struggle, we’re inclined to dismiss some missteps.
I’m generally sympathetic to Malcolm X as a historical figure. I’m appalled at the religious trappings of the movement, but given churches (including mosques) are the primary community centers in most Black areas at the time, the alliance is understandable.
The movie has its flaws. There are some campy scenes that don’t belong and detract from the overall seriousness of the film. But these blips are overcome by the strength of Washington’s performance and the weighty subject matter.
I must now say this: The last 15 minutes of this film is stunning. It’s brilliant. We see the assassination filmed in old newsreel style, and then gradually Washington’s portrayal becomes interspersed with real B/W photos of the leader, speaking his own words, and then eulogized by others. There’s also a surprise guest appearance at the end of the movie which is monumental in scope and meaning, which I will not give away if you haven’t seen the film. I can’t stress enough how powerful the final minutes of this film is to watch. If I was moved, I can only imagine the feelings inside by those much more closely attuned to the subject matter and movement.
Also, the film credits seem to go for 10 minutes, as Spike Lee intentionally listed every conceivable contributor to the film, from the violin player in the soundtrack to the drivers who worked on set. It’s consistent with the message of inclusion.
I wish more people, especially White people would see this movie. It was understandably embraced by Black culture, which resonates to this day. But I think we can *all* learn something by understanding something of the life of Malcolm X.