Malcolm X

Racism and prejudice are still a part of our global reality. One of the ways in which we try to combat this is to educate ourselves and others. There are many mentors to look at. One of them is Malcolm X. His life is depicted in the 1992 film named after him.  I knew little about him before watching this film.  I have summarised what I've learnt and my overall impression of the film below.

The movie opens with a show of archived footage whilst Denzel Washington, who portrays Malcolm X, recites one of Malcolm’s speeches. The film shows parts of Malcolm’s childhood, his early days as a gangster and his imprisonment. He is transformed during his prison years and converts to Islam. After his release, he seeks out his mentor Elijah Muhammad and becomes one of the ministers for the Nation of Islam. The film depicts his growing popularity to the growth of the mosques, and his acquaintance and marriage to his wife Betty. Malcolm X later becomes sceptical of his leader, Elijah Muhammad and leaves the Nation of Islam. He forms Muslim Mosque Inc. and goes on a pilgrimage to Mecca. This is the second of his major transitions in the film. During prison, he was taught the values of Islam which changed his life and after pilgrimage; he is no longer racist towards whites and begins embracing working together with other activists against black segregation. Like any movie based on reality, although we know it will inevitably end in his assassination, it is interesting to understand the events leading up to it as well as enjoy the way the film was put together. Malcolm X inspired many people internationally and the movie does a good job at showing why this is so.

Denzel Washington’s portrayal of the activist is in line with accounts of the real Malcolm – charismatic, well-spoken and professional. Washington was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor for the role and he received the award for Best Actor from the New York Critics Circle. The film, directed by Spike Lee, was also nominated for the Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival in 1993.

This picture is historically significant, not only because of the events it describes but also due to the time it was released. It was released in 1992, during the end of Apartheid and two years after Nelson Mandela’s release from prison. Mandela himself has a cameo role in the film and there is a short montage including footage from South Africa.

It is informative and gives new light to the group of African-American Muslims. Those with a knowledge of the events and Islam as a religion based solely on mainstream media will gain insight from watching it. Malcolm’s life story is remarkable but the movie does feel like it is dragging at times. I think this is because it is biographical and we go into it knowing the ending.

It is a good film; however it is debatable how many people will watch it today. Persons of an African ethnic background may feel obliged to learn their history. It will be viewed as part of school syllabuses, but it’s not something most people would search for. Many people today still do not know who Malcolm X is. Maybe the name rings a bell but they do not know who he was or what he did. This is a good introductory source for those who wish to learn.

Maja Dezulovic

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