The true story of Black Nationalist and civil rights leader
Malcolm X, whose controversial teachings inspired a generation.
Malcolm X (1992)
Directed by Spike Lee
Written by Arnold Perl and Spike Lee
Starring Denzel Washington, Angela Bassett, Albert Hall,
Al Freeman Jr., Delroy Lindo, Spike Lee, Kate Vernon
Based on the book by Malcolm X and Alex Haley
Oscar Nominations - Best Actor (Denzel Washington),
Best Costume Design
Prior to watching this historical epic, Malcolm X was a man I knew very little about. I knew he was a civil rights leader and a member of the Nation of Islam, and that what he preached was controversial. I think most people, particularly students of history, owe it to themselves to watch this movie, if only to learn about this man's journey from gangster to inspiration. Spike Lee was the perfect director to tell Malcolm X's story because he's a director who refuses to back down from controversy and encourages the truth when it comes to African American history. We saw that a few years back with BlacKkKlansman. But he did it with Malcolm X first, a film in which Denzel Washington was robbed of a Best Actor statue.
Washington delivers one of his finest and strongest performances as small-time hustler Malcolm "Red" Little, who finds his true path while in prison and becomes Malcolm X. We see Malcolm's entire life story over an intimidating three and a half hour span. Granted, the first hour does drag, but only because it's establishing backstory on the character. Once he ends up in prison and learns the teachings of Islam, the film becomes what you expected and the story picks up. This film shows you how Malcolm was betrayed by the Nation of Islam and later (allegedly) killed by them for going against their leadership. Malcolm, after traveling to Mecca, learned that working together for the common good was the best avenue for black equality. A lot of people remember him today as a racist with extremist views towards black nationalism. While that may have been the case at one time, we learn in the movie that he learned and evolved, realizing that he was wrong. Regrettably, he didn't have much time to preach his new doctrine.
Malcolm X is one of Spike Lee's best movies. He shies away from the aimless stylization that he usually does, in favor of a somber, direct interpretation of one of the 20th century's most influential icons. I must reiterate that Denzel is truly superb in the role, and it's amazing that he lost Best Actor for it. I don't think the film needed to be as long as it was, but the final product is an engaging, informative film that depicts both the civil rights leader and the husband and father sides of Malcolm X.