By Khadijah Khogeer
In honor of Black History Month, I will be reviewing one of my favorite films of all-time: Spike Lee’s “Malcolm X.” This 1992 masterpiece is a biopic of civil rights activist Malcolm X, chronicling his early childhood, time in prison, conversion to Islam and life leading up to his assassination. Malcolm X was and remains a controversial figure, but he was just as influential as Martin Luther King Jr. in advocating for the rights of African Americans.
“Malcolm X” is a significant movie because it gives a voice to a Black man who dealt with racism throughout his life. The movie depicts a complex character, someone who is neither fully good nor bad, who goes through various transformations in his journey from Malcolm Little to Malcolm X.
The film doesn’t glorify or demonize Malcolm X. It demystifies the historical figure’s struggle with his identity as a Black man. As a viewer, I could easily sympathize with the character, because everyone struggles with some part of their identity.
Malcolm X is portrayed by the charismatic Denzel Washington, who embodies the persona well. Washington delivers his dialogue and speeches with great intensity and confidence, and he visually dominates the screen in every scene he is in. After watching the movie, I was very impressed by Washington’s acting chops and how many of Malcolm X’s mannerisms he could pull off without looking like an imitation.
In other biopics I’ve seen, such as “Selma” and “Bohemian Rhapsody,” I felt the actors were just cosplaying the real-life figures instead of really being the character. Washington’s portrayal of Malcolm X, however, felt very authentic. He wasn’t just copying his speech pattern or mimicking his physical appearance for the sake of it, rather, he was incorporating these into his overall performance to convey Malcolm’s emotions and actions.
The film is directed by Spike Lee, who also directed “BlacKkKlansman” in 2018, another racially-themed film. Lee’s filmography employs a predominantly African American cast, and he has been making such powerful films for several decades.
Lee uses his signature techniques, such as symbolic lighting and tracking shots in “Malcolm X,” that make the movie dynamic to watch. The plot moves at a quick pace and never feels boring or dragged out. Malcolm X had an eventful life, even though it was cut short, and the film gives you enough of each phase of his life within the three-hour time frame.
The movie takes you from Michigan to Cairo to Mecca and even to Boston. You can catch various shots of Boston in the movie — even though a lot of the scenes were filmed in New York — and Malcolm’s childhood home is actually in Roxbury. If you haven’t already, watch “Malcolm X” not only for the great directing, writing and acting, but for insight into the civil rights era and the life of an important civil rights leader.