Title: Malcolm X (1992)
Director: Spike Lee
Stars: Denzel Washington, Angela Basset, Delroy Lindo, Albert Hall and Christopher Plummer
The film centres around the rise of Malcolm Little, who later became world renowned under his new moniker, Malcolm X. We learn of his early years when his father was killed by a street tram and his mother’s mental health issues, which result in his placement into foster care. He is a bright student and wants to become a lawyer, but is told that that profession is not for negroes. Later we see him in his late teens/early twenties where he enters a relationship with a white woman and comes to the attention of a gangster called ‘West Indian Archie’ (Lindo). After a falling out over money he joins up with his old friend Shorty (Spike Lee), and they start to rob white people. This ends badly when he is incarcerated for eight to ten years. In prison he meets a charismatic man named Baines (Hall), who tells him about the Islamic religion. Little by little he starts to warm to this new idea and upon his release he becomes a key figurehead for the Nation of Islam, led by Elijah Muhammad (Al Freeman Jr.).
Denzel Washington is immense as the highly intelligent, charismatic, ruthless and talented, Malcolm X. Despite protestations that his skin was too dark to play the comparatively lighter skinned Malcolm X, he really pulled off the role and this is unimportant in the larger scheme of things. What is very noticeable is the fact that Washington, at the beginning of the movie, is playing a man of nineteen or twenty. Despite his good looks and searing talent, he simply looks too old to be that young. They really should have gotten a younger actor for these scenes and then introduced Denzel later in the movie.
Delroy Lindo is brilliant as ever as the hulking gangster, Archie, going from happy to serious with aplomb. Albert Hall is also a joy to watch and is most famous for his appearance in Apocalypse Now. There is also quality support work from Al Freeman Jr. and Christopher Plummer, who has a brief but memorable role as a prison chaplain, who Malcolm rubs the wrong way with his Islamic beliefs.
Despite the fact that this is based on real life, there are many misleading facts on display. This is rather commonplace in movies, but Malcolm X has several glaring errors. The most apparent being that Malcolm was introduced to Islam by Blaine. This character was created for the movie and in real life Malcolm was influenced by letters from his brother and sister. Spike Lee famously encouraged kids to skip school and go and watch this movie instead so that they could learn some ‘real history’. Frankly, this film could have mislead those poor children just a little bit. Despite these flaws, Malcolm X is well worth watching for the quality acting and costume/set design that dominates this picture.