Published On: Sun, Oct 27th, 2019

Film Review: Malcolm X, an African American nationalist leader

Malcolm X is arguably one of Spike Lee’s best films, and Denzel Washington played the role of the charismatic leader to perfection. Highly dramatic with some romantic overtones and a large dose of political ideology that swings well beyond the boundaries of racism, the film explores the life of the man who would rise to become one of the most controversial figures of the 1960s. He was loved by African American citizens across the United States, but eventually turned his back on the Nation of Islam and was labelled a traitor. This led to his assassination in February, 1965.

Malcolm X – Early Years

Born Malcolm Little in 1925, the film is very candid about the turmoil in his early years. His father, a close follower of the teachings of a prominent black activist named Marcus Garvey, advocated total separation between the white and black population. Malcolm would integrate this philosophy into many of his speeches later in his life. His father’s work attracted the attention of organizations like the Ku Klux Klan and he suffered a gruesome death when he was run over by a trolley. The young Malcolm was sure his father’s death was not an accident, but the real killers were never brought to justice.

While living in the Harlem district of New York he hung around with an unsavoury assortment of pimps, hustlers and drug addicts. In 1946 he and his sidekick Shorty (played by Spike Lee) were convicted of burglary and thrown in jail. While incarcerated he heard of an organization called the Nation of Islam and its leader, Elijah Muhammad. By the time he was released from jail Malcolm was a new man. His religious conversion was nothing short of miraculous, and for the rest of the film it’s hard not to believe that Denzel Washington and Malcolm X is not the same person.

His fiery and passionate speeches to the African-American community are captivating and fervently anti-white. “I charge the white man to be the greatest murderer on this earth, I charge the white man to be the greatest kidnapper on this earth, and he can’t deny these charges.” Those words echoed loud and clear from Malcolm X’s podium well into the 1960s. He was the Nation of Islam’s chief spokesman, and the organization welcomed thousands of new members year after year.

Malcolm Separates from the Nation of Islam

Film Review: Malcolm X, an African American nationalist leader

A reflective tone takes over for the last forty minutes of the film. Malcolm X separates himself from the Nation of Islam and after a trip to Mecca in Saudi Arabia, he returns with a new outlook on racial integration. This time, he sends his message to people of all colours, much to the chagrin of his former saviour Elijah Muhammad. Although this event was not shown in the film, Malcolm X led the Unity Rally in Harlem, New York in 1963. It was one of the largest civil rights demonstrations in U.S. history.
Malcolm was shot dead by three members of the Nation of Islam in February, 1965. He is buried in Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York.

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