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Malcolm X

Promotional poster
Directed by Spike Lee
Produced by Preston L. Holmes
Jon Kilik
Spike Lee
Ahmed Murad
Monty Ross
Fernando Sulichin
Marvin Worth
Written by Book:
Alex Haley
Malcolm X
Screenplay:
Spike Lee
Arnold Perl
Starring Denzel Washington
Spike Lee
Angela Bassett
Albert Hall
Al Freeman, Jr.
Delroy Lindo
Music by Terence Blanchard
Cinematography Ernest Dickerson
Editing by Barry Alexander Brown
Studio Largo International
40 Acres & A Mule Filmworks
Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures
Release date(s) United States November 18, 1992
Running time 202 min.
Country U.S.A.
Language English
Gross revenue $48,169,910[1]

Malcolm X is a 1992 biographical film directed by Spike Lee about the African-American activist and black nationalist Malcolm X. The story is based on The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley. Denzel Washington was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor for his role as Malcolm X.

Contents

Plot

Malcolm X divides the life of the African-American activist Malcolm X into three sections. The first section deals with the troubled childhood of Malcolm Little, whose father, a preacher, was murdered by the Black Legion and whose mother was institutionalized for insanity. Malcolm grows up and gets a job as a Pullman porter, calling himself Detroit Red. Getting involved with a Harlem gangster named West Indian Archie with whom he has a falling out, Malcolm flees to Boston and decides to become a burglar. He and his best friend, Shorty (played by Spike Lee) are arrested by the police and are both sentenced to a ten-year prison term.

The second section follows Malcolm's life in prison, where a fellow inmate, Baines (a composite character), introduces him to the teachings of the Nation of Islam. Malcolm eventually converts to the religion and becomes a disciple of Elijah Muhammad. During this fervent immersion into the Nation of Islam, he becomes an incendiary speaker for the movement and marries Betty X. Malcolm X preaches a doctrine of separation from white society and criticizes the non-violent, integration approach of the Civil Rights Movement. Later, Malcolm discovers that Muhammad had extramartial affairs with his secretaries and the Nation becomes jealous of Malcolm due to his wide exposure in the media and the possibility of him becoming greater in stature to Muhammad.

The third section follows Malcolm's pilgrimage to Mecca which greatly softens his beliefs, teaching him that Muslims come from all races, even whites, and he endeavors to break free of the strict dogma of the Nation of Islam, with tragic results. Malcolm and his family receive death threats and their house is firebombed. Malcolm drives to the Audubon Ballroom for his upcoming rally. He is assassinated in front of his wife and young daughters as he is about to deliver a speech, on February 21, 1965. After the assassination scene, the film cuts to black and white news footage of Malcolm X being carried out of the Audubon Ballroom on a stretcher, at the hospital, a man states that Malcolm X is dead.

The film closes with actual footage of Malcolm X himself while Ossie Davis rereads the eulogy he delivered at Malcolm's funeral. The final footage in the film is from the present day, with numerous children of African descent, both in the United States and Africa, declaring "I am Malcolm X." The final scene takes place in a classroom in Soweto township in South Africa, with anti-apartheid activist and future South African President Nelson Mandela quoting one of Malcolm X's speeches.[2]

Cast

Production

"It's such a great story, a great American story, and it reflects our society in so many ways. Here's a guy who essentially led so many lives. He pulled himself out of the gutter. He went from country boy to hipster and semi-hoodlum. From there he went to prison, where he became a Muslim. Then he was a spiritual leader who evolved into a humanitarian."
— Producer Marvin Worth on his 25 year effort to make a film about the life of Malcolm X[3]

Producer Marvin Worth acquired the rights to the autobiography in 1967 and then struggled for 25 years before it was finally made and released. Worth had met Malcolm X, then called Detroit Red, when the future icon was a teenager hustling drugs on 52d Street in New York. Worth was 15 at the time, and spending time around jazz clubs in the area. As Worth remembers: "He was selling grass. He was 16 or 17 but looked older. He was very witty, a funny guy, and he had this extraordinary charisma. A great dancer and a great dresser. He was very good-looking, very, very tall. Girls always noticed him. He was quite a special guy."[3]

Early on, the production had difficulties telling the entire story, in part due to unresolved questions about Malcolm X's killing. In 1971, Worth made a well-received documentary, Malcolm X, which received an Academy Award Nomination for Best Documentary Feature. The project continued to suffer and over the years became known as one of Hollywood's most famous unproduced movies. Several major names were involved at different periods of time, including Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, and director Sidney Lumet.[3]

Screenplay

In 1968, Worth commissioned a screenplay from novelist James Baldwin, who was later joined by Arnold Perl, a screenwriter who had been blacklisted in the McCarthy Era.[2] The screenplay took longer to develop than anticipated, and Perl died in 1971.[3] Baldwin developed his work on the screenplay into the book One Day, When I Was Lost: A Scenario Based on The Autobiography of Malcolm X, published in 1972; he died in 1987. Several authors attempted drafts, including white playwright David Mamet, black novelist David Bradley, black author Charles Fuller and noted screenwriter Calder Willingham.[3][4] Once Spike Lee took over as director, he revised the Baldwin-Perl script. Due to the revisions, the Baldwin family asked the producer to take his name off the credits. Thus Malcolm X credits Perl and Lee as the writers and Malcolm X and Alex Haley as the authors of The Autobiography of Malcolm X.[3]

Production difficulties

The production was controversial for years before it was released, most of it involving race and the legacy of Malcolm X.

Many issues stemmed from a rise in the importance of Malcolm X as a symbol of the black struggle: after what were viewed as setbacks for the African-American community during the Presidencies of Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, there was a rise in interest in his message, particularly among the African-American community and ranging from the rap community to academia. In the three years before the movie's release, sales of The Autobiography of Malcolm X had increased 300 percent, and four of his books saw a ninefold increase in sales between 1986 and 1991.[4]

The race of the director

Once Warner Bros. agreed to greenlight the project, they wanted Academy Award-winning Canadian film director Norman Jewison to direct the film. Jewison, director of the classic civil rights film In the Heat of the Night, was able to bring in Denzel Washington into the project to play Malcolm (the two would later work on The Hurricane). Soon a protest erupted over the fact that a white director, Jewison, was slated to make the film.[4] Spike Lee was one of the main voices; since college, he had considered a film adaption of The Autobiography Of Malcolm X to be his dream project. Lee and others felt that Malcolm's story had to be told by a black director.[5]

After the public outcry against Jewison, Worth came to the conclusion that "it needed a black director at this point. It was insurmountable the other way ... There's a grave responsibility here." Jewison left the project, though he noted he gave up the movie not because of the protest, but because he could not solve the riddle of Malcolm X's private life and that he was never satisfied with the script by Fuller; Lee confirmed Jewison's position, stating "If Norman actually thought he could do it, he would have really fought me. But he bowed out gracefully." Lee was soon named the director, and he made a substantial rewrite to the script, stating: "I'm directing this movie and I rewrote the script, and I'm an artist and there's just no two ways around it: this film about Malcolm X is going to be my vision of Malcolm X. But it's not like I'm sitting atop a mountain saying, 'Screw everyone, this is the Malcolm I see.' I've done the research, I've talked to the people who were there."[4]

Concerns over Lee's portrayal of Malcolm X

From right after Lee was announced as the director and before its release, the film received criticism by black nationalists and members of the United Front to Preserve the Legacy of Malcolm X, led by poet and playwright Amiri Baraka, who were worried about how Lee would portray Malcolm X. One protest in Harlem drew over 200 people.[4][6] Some based their opinion on dislike of Lee's previous films; others were concerned that he would focus on the more flamboyant, crime-plagued phase of Malcolm X's life instead of on his life as a Muslim leader.[4][6][7] Baraka accused Lee of being a Buppie, stating "We will not let Malcolm X's life be trashed to make middle-class Negroes sleep easier", compelling others to write the director and warn him "not to mess up Malcolm's life."[4] Some, including Lee himself, noted the irony of the arguments against Lee after his own arguments against Jewison.[6] Looking back on the experience of making the film and the pressure he faced to "get it right," Lee jokingly said on the DVD commentary that when the film was released, he and Washington had their passports handy in case they needed to flee the country.[8]

Concerns over Washington's role as Malcolm X

Washington signed onto the movie while Jewison was at the helm; still, Lee stated he never envisioned any actor other than Washington in the role. Lee, who had worked with him on Mo' Better Blues, cited Washington's performance as Malcolm X in an Off Broadway play as superb. However, some purists noted that Washington, who is about 6 feet tall and "the color of mocha", bore little resemblance to the "reddish-brown (skinned), 6-foot-4-inch" Malcolm X. Some worried that Washington's looks and sex appeal, which had landed him on the cover of People magazine as "one of the 50 most beautiful people in the world", were not right for the part of such an influential figure.[9]

Budget issues

Lee encountered difficulty in securing the budget he felt was needed. Facing off against the studio and the bond company, Lee felt that a budget allowance of over $30 million was reasonable; the studio disagreed and offered a lower amount. Following advice from fellow director Francis Ford Coppola, Lee got "the movie company pregnant": taking the movie far enough along into actual production to try and force the studio to move forward with an expanding budget that met his requirements.[5] The film, initially budgeted at $28 million, climbed to nearly $33 million. Lee used $2 million of his own $3 million salary on the project. Completion Bond Company, which assumed financial control in January 1992, refused to approve any more expenditures; in addition, the studio and bond company instructed Lee that the film could be no longer than 2 hours and 15 minutes.[7] The resulting conflict caused the project to be shut down in post-production.[5]

The film was saved by the financial intervention of prominent African Americans, some of whom appear in the film's final photo montage during the closing credits, including Bill Cosby, Oprah Winfrey, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Janet Jackson, Prince, and Peggy Cooper Cafritz, founder of the Duke Ellington School of the Arts. Their contributions were made as donations; as Lee noted: "This is not a loan. They are not investing in the film. These are black folks with some money who came to the rescue of the movie. As a result, this film will be my version. Not the bond company's version, not Warner Brothers'. I will do the film the way it ought to be, and it will be over three hours."[7] The actions of such prominent members of the African American community spurred the bond company and Warner Bros. to continue with the project.[4][5]

Request for black interviewers

"I'm doing what every other person in Hollywood does: they dictate who they want to do interviews with. Tom Cruise, Robert Redford, whoever. People throw their weight around. Well, I get many requests now for interviews, and I would like African-Americans to interview me. [. . .] Spike Lee has never said he only wants black journalists to interview him. What I'm doing is using whatever clout I have to get qualified African-Americans assignments. The real crime is white publications don't have black writers, that's the crime."
— Spike Lee explaining his request for black interviewers[10]

A month before the film was released, Lee noted that he preferred that media outlets send black journalists to interview him. The request proved controversial in the media; while it was common practice for celebrities to pick interviewers who were known to be sympathetic, it was the first time race had been used as a qualification. Lee clarified that he was not barring white interviewers from interviewing him, but that he felt, given the subject matter of the film, that black writers have "more insight about Malcolm than white writers."[10]

The request was turned down by the Los Angeles Times, but several others agreed including Premiere magazine, Vogue, Interview and Rolling Stone. The Los Angeles Times explained they did not give writer approval. The editor of Premiere noted that the request created internal discussions that resulted in changes at the magazine: "Had we had a history of putting a lot of black writers on stories about the movie industry we'd be in a stronger position. But we didn't. It was an interesting challenge he laid down. It caused some personnel changes. We've hired a black writer and a black editor."[10]

Filming

Betty Shabazz served as a consultant to the film.[6] The Fruit of Islam, the defense corps of the Nation of Islam, provided security for the movie.[9]

Washington had portrayed Malcolm X eleven years earlier in the Off Broadway play, "When the Chickens Come Home to Roost", which dealt with the relationship between Malcolm and his mentor, Elijah Muhammad. Washington noted that he did not know much about the character, or read his autobiography, when he took the role. To prepare for the stage role, he read books and articles by and about Malcolm X and went over hours of tape and film footage of speeches. The play opened in 1981 and earned Washington a warm review by Frank Rich, who was at the time the chief theater critic of The New York Times. Upon being cast in the film, he interviewed people who knew Malcolm X, among them Betty Shabazz and two of his brothers. Although they had different upbringings, Washington tried to focus on what he had in common with his character: Washington was close to Malcolm X's age when Malcolm X was assassinated; both men had large families; both of their fathers were ministers; both were raised primarily by their mothers.[9]

Malcolm X is the first non-documentary, and the first American-produced film, to be given permission to film in Mecca (or within the Haram Sharif). A second film crew was hired to film in Mecca because non-Muslims are not allowed inside the city.

The film's opening scene depicts Boston in the 1940s. This scene was actually shot in Ridgewood, Queens, New York City. The elevated cars are the NYC D-Type Triplex and are owned by the New York Transit Museum.

In addition to Nelson Mandela, the film featured cameos by Christopher Plummer and Peter Boyle, civil rights activists Al Sharpton, William Kunstler as well as Black Panther Party co-founder Bobby Seale.[11] Ossie Davis read part of the eulogy he gave at Malcolm X's funeral in a voice over at the end of the film, praising him as "our own black shining prince."[12]

The film was made in the years immediately after Mandela's 1990 release from prison and during the negotiations to end apartheid in South Africa. Lee explained that he made "the connection between Soweto and Harlem, Nelson and Malcolm, and what Malcolm talked about -- pan-Africanism, trying to build these bridges between people of color. He is alive in children in classrooms in Harlem, in classrooms in Soweto."[2]

Reception

Malcolm X was released in North America on November 18, 1992. Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, the sequel to the highly successful family comedy, also opened on the same weekend.

The film was critically well-received, garnering 93% on movie review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes.[13] Washington's portrayal of Malcolm X was widely praised and he was nominated for Academy Award for Best Actor. Washington lost to Al Pacino, a decision which Lee criticized, saying "I'm not the only one who thinks Denzel was robbed on that one."[14] The movie received a number of awards at other festivals.[15]

The film did better than its producers expected, grossing $9,871,125 on its opening weekend and finishing third after Home Alone 2 ($30m) and Bram Stoker's Dracula ($15m).[3] According to Box Office Mojo, the film ended its run with a gross of $48,169,610.

References

  1. ^ "Malcolm X (1992)". Box Office Mojo. http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=malcolmx.htm. Retrieved 2008-10-18. 
  2. ^ a b c Sheila Rule, FILM; Malcolm X: The Facts, the Fictions, the Film, The New York Times, November 15, 1992, Accessed February 24, 2010.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Bernard Weinraub, A Movie Producer Remembers The Human Side of Malcolm X, The New York Times, November 23, 1992, Accessed June 18, 2008.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h David Ansen and Spike Lee, The Battle For Malcolm X, Newsweek, Accessed May 15, 2008.
  5. ^ a b c d Scott Tobias, Malcolm X, The Onion A/V Club, February 15, 2005, Accessed May 15, 2008.
  6. ^ a b c d Evelyn Nieves, Malcolm X: Firestorm Over a Film Script, The New York Times, August 9, 1991, Accessed May 15, 2008.
  7. ^ a b c Lena Williams, Spike Lee Says Money From Blacks Saved 'X', The New York Times, May 20, 1992, Accessed May 15, 2008.
  8. ^ Nat Tunbridge (April 11, 2005). "Malcolm X: Special Edition". DVD Times. http://www.dvdtimes.co.uk/content.php?contentid=56742. Retrieved October 3, 2009. 
  9. ^ a b c Lena Williams, Playing With Fire, The New York Times, October 25, 1992, Accessed May 15, 2008.
  10. ^ a b c Bernard Weinraub, Spike Lee's Request: Black Interviewers Only, The New York Times, October 29, 1992, Accessed May 23, 2008.
  11. ^ Vincent Canby, Review/Film; 'Malcolm X,' as Complex as Its Subject, The New York Times, November 18, 1992, Accessed May 23, 2008.
  12. ^ Ossie Davis found dead in Miami hotel room, Associated Press, February 9, 2005, Accessed May 23, 2008.
  13. ^ http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/1042135-malcolm_x/
  14. ^ http://www.dvdtalk.com/interviews/spike_lee_on_ma.html
  15. ^ http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0104797/awards

External links


Malcolm X
Directed by Spike Lee
Produced by Preston L. Holmes
Jon Kilik
Spike Lee
Ahmed Murad
Monty Ross
Fernando Sulichin
Marvin Worth
Written by Book:
Alex Haley
Malcolm X
Screenplay:
Spike Lee
Arnold Perl
Starring Denzel Washington
Christopher Plummer
Spike Lee
Angela Bassett
Albert Hall
Al Freeman, Jr.
Delroy Lindo
Music by Terence Blanchard
Cinematography Ernest Dickerson
Editing by Barry Alexander Brown
Studio Largo International
40 Acres & A Mule Filmworks
Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures
Release date(s) November 18, 1992
Running time 202 min.
Country United States
Language English
Budget $33,000,000 (estimated)
Gross revenue $48,169,910[1]

Malcolm X is a 1992 biographical motion picture about the Muslim-American figure Malcolm X (born Malcolm Little). It was co-written, co-produced, and directed by Spike Lee. It stars Denzel Washington as the titular character and co-stars Angela Bassett, Albert Hall, Al Freeman, Jr., and Delroy Lindo. Lee has a small role as Shorty. Christopher Plummer, Peter Boyle, Rev. Al Sharpton, Black Panther Party co-founder Bobby Seale, Karen Allen, Nelson Mandela, Ossie Davis, and William Kunstler have cameos.

The film dramatizes key events in Malcolm X's adult life: his criminal career, his incarceration, his conversion to Islam, his ministry as a member of the Nation of Islam, his marriage to Betty X, his falling out with the organization, his reevaluation of his views concerning whites during his pilgrimmage to Mecca, and his assassination on February 21, 1965. Defining childhood incidents, including his father's death (which he assigned to the Ku Klux Klan), his mother's mental illness, and his experiences with racism, are dramatized in flashbacks.

The screenplay, co-credited to Lee and Arnold Perl, is based largely on Alex Haley's 1965 book, The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Haley collaborated with Malcolm X on the book beginning in 1963 and completed it after Malcolm X's death.

Malcolm X was distributed by Warner Bros. and released on November 18, 1992.

Contents

Plot

Malcolm X begins with a title sequence featuring an American flag being consumed by fire intercut with George Holliday's iconic footage of the beating of Los Angeles motorist Rodney King. A voice-over of Denzel Washington as Malcolm X angrily condemns white America. "We don't see the American dream; we've experienced only the American nightmare"! The burning flag eventually becomes the letter "X".

The film opens in earnest in Boston in the "war years".

Malcolm "Detroit Red" Little, a troubled, small-time criminal and his friend, Shorty, are walking down a street in gaudy new attire. Little also receives a conk from Shorty. They concoct various criminal schemes to make money. Eventually, Little becomes involved with a Harlem gangster named West Indian Archie (Delroy Lindo). Archie takes Little on as his protégè, but they ultimately have a falling out over money owed Little, who accuses Archie of "slipping" mentally. After a fight, Little flees back to Boston. There, he is reunited with Shorty and becomes romantically involved with a white woman. Little and Shorty target a wealthy white couple and rob their home. However, both are later arrested for the crime and sentenced to eight-to-ten years in prison.

Malcolm Little is initially defiant towards guards and angrily rebuffs the prison's chaplain. After he emerges from a long stint in solitary confinement, a fellow inmate, Baines, tries to help him during withdrawal from cocaine addiction, which Little reluctantly accepts. However, Little, the son of a Garveyite Baptist minister who died violently (which Little alleges was at the hands of members of the Ku Klux Klan), is suspicious of Baines. Baines espouses the Islamic faith; Little resists. But he grows to respect and trust Baines, who educates him further and introduces him to the Nation of Islam and insists that God is black, Little is skeptical. When he hears from another inmate that the Brooklyn Dodgers have promoted Jackie Robinson (then a notable Negro League player), Little is happy, but Baines is not; he reminds Little to never forget four hundred years of slavery. Baines tells Little that blacks are of the Tribe of Shabazz who are lost in North America, all whites are devils, and Elijah Muhammad can lead them to the light. However, when Baines encourages him to pray in the Muslim way, Little can't bring himself to kneel even though he says he want to. Later, he has an epiphany in his cell: he is reading a letter from Elijah Muhammad when an apparition of Muhammad comes to him and tells him, "I have come to give you something which can never be taken away from you: I bring to you a sense of your own worth". When the apparition disappears, he is able to kneel and pray. When he is released from prison, the fully-converted Little visits Muhammad, who praises his turnaround. He rejects his family name as a slave name and, per the Nation of Islam's naming convention, adopts the surname "X", signifying the mathematical symbol for the unknown.

Over the next several years, Malcolm X becomes an increasingly prominent Nation of Islam minister, espousing Islamic principles and the words of Elijah Muhammad, who eventually orders Malcolm to open mosques across the country. He is introduced to Betty X (née Sanders). They wed and have four daughters. He is also reunited with Shorty, who informs him of the whereabouts of their former fellow criminals. West Indian Archie is now destitute and living in The Bronx. He lives in squalor and suffered physical and mental problem due to his drug use. Malcolm vows to help him.

Despite the Nation of Islam growing greatly during Malcolm X's tenure, however, there is growing resentment of him within the organization. The pro-Elijah Muhammad faction (which includes Baines), perceives that Malcolm X actually considers himself the Nation of Islam and might attempt to force Muhammad out as its leader. However, Muhammad maintains confidence in his protégè.

When Malcolm learns that newspaper reports accusing Elijah Muhammad of fathering eight children out of wedlock with six teenaged girls are accurate when he talks to them, he becomes disillusioned. After making deliberately provocative statements in direct violation of Elijah Muhammad's directive that none of his ministers was to comment on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and, Malcolm X is suspended from all activity for ninety days. He submits to the punishment.

Ultimately, Malcolm X is forced out of the Nation of Islam. He publicly announces his intent to found an independent mosque, Muslim Mosque, Inc. and undertake a hajj (or pilgrimage) to Mecca, which every able Muslim man is obligated to do at least once in his lifetime. In a letter to his wife, Betty, which she reads to a group of people, Malcolm updates her on his activities. He informs her that he is being followed by two white men, whom he believes are Central Intelligence Agency agents. He also says he has worshipped with fellow Muslims of all races (including whites). He signs the letter using both his new adopted name, "El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz" and his more familiar name. He returns to the United States with far more moderate views and repudiates racism. He also announces a willingness to work with other civil rights leaders, whom he harshly criticized in the past.

His activity, however, earns the wrath of Elijah Muhammad. In addition to telephone harassment, Elijah Muhammad's own son, who has sided with Malcolm, says he was ordered to kill him by installing an explosive device in Malcolm's car and later, the Nation of Islam-owned Queens home they live in is firebombed. Malcolm and his family escape unharmed. In an interview with a local television reporter given while firefighters attempt to put out the blaze, he accuses Elijah Muhammad of ordering it. Baines calls it a publicity stunt.

On February 21, 1965, Malcolm X begins a speech at the Audubon Ballroom in Manhattan. However, a disturbance in the audience interrupts him. Malcolm tries to calm people, but moments later, he is shot numerous times. His wife and children witness it. Three suspects are captured after trying to escape. Later, a hospital spokesman makes a public statement: "The person you know as Malcolm X is no more".

In archival footage, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. says: "The assassination of Malcolm X was an unfortunate tragedy and reveals that there are still numerous people in our nation who have degenerated to the point of expressing dissent through murder and we haven't learned to disagree without becoming violently disagreeable".

In voice-over, actor and activist Ossie Davis quotes from the eulogy he gave at Malcolm X's funeral as a montage of new and archival footage and photographs of Malcolm X is shown:

Here, at this final hour, in this quiet place, Harlem has come to bid farewell to one of its brightest hopes. Extinguished now, and gone from us forever ... It is not in the memory of man that this beleaguered, unfortunate, but nonetheless proud community has found a braver, more gallant young champion than this Afro-American who lies before us unconquered still. I say the word again, as he would want me to: Afro-American — Afro-American Malcolm. Malcolm had stopped being Negro years ago; it had become too small, too puny, too weak a word for him. Malcolm was bigger than that. Malcolm had become an Afro-American, and he wanted so desperately that we, that all his people, would become Afro-Americans, too. There are those who still consider it their duty, as friends of the Negro people, to tell us to revile him, to flee, even from the presence of his memory, to save ourselves by writing him out of the history of our turbulent times ... and we will smile ... They will say that he is of hate; a a fanatic, a racist who can only bring evil to the cause for which you struggle! And we will answer and say unto them: Did you ever talk to Brother Malcolm? Did you ever touch him or have him smile at you? Did you ever really listen to him? ... Was he ever himself associated with violence or any public disturbance? For if you did, you would know him. And if you knew him, you would know why we must honor him: Malcolm was our manhood, our living, black manhood! This was his meaning to his people. And, in honoring him, we honor the best in ourselves ... However much we may have differed with him or with each other about him and his value as a man, let his going from us serve only to bring us together, now ... Consigning these mortal remains to earth, the common mother of all, secure in the knowledge that what we place in the ground is no more now a man, but a seed which, after the winter of our discontent, will come forth again to meet us. And we will know him then for what he was, and is: a prince! Our own black shining prince who didn’t hesitate to die, because he loved us so.

The film ends with a scene of a black teacher in an American classroom. Behind her on the blackboard, are the words "MALCOLM X DAY". She tells the class that it is Malcolm X's birthday.

"Malcolm X is you — all of you — and you are Malcolm X", she says.

In succession, some of her students stand up and shout, "I am Malcolm X"! The scene switches to African students who mimic the American students. The film culminates with recently released anti-apartheid activist and future South African president Nelson Mandela quoting one of Malcolm X's speeches.[2]

Cast

Production

"It's such a great story, a great American story, and it reflects our society in so many ways. Here's a guy who essentially led so many lives. He pulled himself out of the gutter. He went from country boy to hipster and semi-hoodlum. From there he went to prison, where he became a Muslim. Then he was a spiritual leader who evolved into a humanitarian."
— Producer Marvin Worth on his 25 year effort to make a film about the life of Malcolm X[3]

Producer Marvin Worth acquired the rights to The Autobiography of Malcolm X in 1967. Worth had met Malcolm X, then called "Detroit Red", as a teenager selling drugs New York. Worth was fifteen at the time, and spending time around jazz clubs in the area. As Worth remembers: "He was selling grass. He was sixteen or seventeen but looked older. He was very witty, a funny guy, and he had this extraordinary charisma. A great dancer and a great dresser. He was very good-looking, very, very tall. Girls always noticed him. He was quite a special guy."[3]

Early on, the production had difficulties telling the entire story, in part due to unresolved questions surrounding Malcolm X's assassination. In 1971, Worth made a well-received documentary, Malcolm X, which received an Academy Award nomination in that category. The project remain unrealized. However, several major entertainers were attached to it at various times, including Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, and director Sidney Lumet.[3]

Screenplay

In 1968, Marvin Worth commissioned a screenplay from novelist James Baldwin, who was later joined by Arnold Perl, a screenwriter who had been a victim of McCarthy-era blacklisting.[2] However, the screenplay took longer to develop than anticipated. Perl died in 1971.[3]

Baldwin developed his work on the screenplay into the 1972 book One Day, When I Was Lost: A Scenario Based on Alex Haley's The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Baldwin died in 1987. Several authors attempted drafts, including white playwright David Mamet, black novelist David Bradley, black author Charles Fuller and noted black screenwriter Calder Willingham.[3][4] Once Spike Lee took over as director, he rewrote the Baldwin-Perl script. Due to the revisions, the Baldwin family asked the producer to take his name off the credits. Thus Malcolm X only credits Perl and Lee as the writers and Malcolm X and Alex Haley as the authors of The Autobiography of Malcolm X.[3]

Production difficulties

The production was considered controversial long before filming began. The crux of the controversy was Malcolm X's inflammatory and often angry denunciation of whites before he undertook his hajj. He was, arguably, not well-regarded among white citizens by and large; however, he had risen to become a hero in the black community and a symbol of blacks' struggles, particularly during the presidencies of Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. In the three years before the movie's release, sales of The Autobiography of Malcolm X had increased 300 percent, and four of his books saw a ninefold increase in sales between 1986 and 1991.[4]

The race of the director

Once Warner Bros. agreed to the project, they initially wanted Academy Award-winning Canadian film director Norman Jewison to direct the film. Jewison, director of the seminal civil rights film In the Heat of the Night, was able to bring Denzel Washington into the project to play Malcolm X. A protest erupted over the fact that a white director was slated to make the film.[4] Spike Lee was one of the main voices of criticism; since college, he had considered a film adaption of The Autobiography Of Malcolm X to be a dream project. Lee and others felt that it was appropriate that only a black person should direct Malcolm X.[5]

After the public outcry against Jewison, Worth came to the conclusion that "it needed a black director at this point. It was insurmountable the other way ... There's a grave responsibility here." Jewison left the project, though he noted he gave up the movie not because of the protest, but because he could not reconcile Malcolm's private and public lives and was unsatisfied with Charles Fuller's script. Lee confirmed Jewison's position, stating "If Norman actually thought he could do it, he would have really fought me. But he bowed out gracefully". Jewison and Denzel Washington would reunite several years later for The Hurricane, in which Washington played imprisoned boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, who spent nearly twenty years in prison for a murder he claimed he did not commit before his conviction was overturned in 1985.

Spike Lee was soon named the director, and he made substantial changes to the script. "I'm directing this movie and I rewrote the script, and I'm an artist and there's just no two ways around it: this film about Malcolm X is going to be my vision of Malcolm X. But it's not like I'm sitting atop a mountain saying, 'Screw everyone, this is the Malcolm I see.' I've done the research, I've talked to the people who were there."[4]

Concerns over Lee's portrayal of Malcolm X

Soon after Spike Lee was announced as the director and before its release, Malcolm X received criticism by black nationalists and members of the United Front to Preserve the Legacy of Malcolm X, headed by poet and playwright Amiri Baraka, who were worried about how Lee would portray Malcolm X. One protest in Harlem drew over 200 people.[4][6] Some based their opinion on dislike of Lee's previous films; others were concerned that he would focus on Malcolm X's life before he converted to Islam.[4][6][7] Baraka bluntly accused Spike Lee of being a "Buppie", stating "We will not let Malcolm X's life be trashed to make middle-class Negroes sleep easier", compelling others to write the director and warn him "not to mess up Malcolm's life."[4] Some, including Lee himself, noted the irony that many of the arguments they made against him mirrored those made against Norman Jewison.[6]

Looking back on the experience of making the film and the pressure he faced to produce an accurate film, Lee jokingly stated on the DVD's audio commentary that when the film was released, he and Denzel Washington had their passports handy in case they needed to flee the country.[8]

Concerns over Washington's portrayal of Malcolm X

As previously noted, Denzel Washington agreed to play Malcolm X while Norman Jewison was scheduled to direct the film. Still, Lee stated he never envisioned any actor other than Washington in the role. Lee, who had worked with Washington on Mo' Better Blues, cited Washington's performance as Malcolm X in an Off Broadway play as superb. However, some purists noted that Washington was far shorter and had a far darker complexion than the real Malcolm X, who stood 6'-4" and had notably reddish hair and a lighter complexion (due to his very fair-skinned Grenadan-born mother's partial white ancestry) and bore only a passing resemblance to him. Critics of the choice attributed to the choice of Denzel Washington to his looks and sex appeal, which had earned him a recent cover shot on People magazine as a selection on its fifty most beautiful people in the world.[9]

Budget issues

Spike Lee also encountered difficulty in securing a sufficient budget. Lee told Warner Bros. and the bond company that a budget of over $30 million was necessary; the studio disagreed and offered a lower amount. Following advice from fellow director Francis Ford Coppola, Lee got "the movie company pregnant": taking the movie far enough along into actual production to attempt to force the studio to increase the budget.[5] The film, initially budgeted at $28 million, climbed to nearly $33 million. Lee contributed $2 million of his own $3 million salary. Completion Bond Company, which assumed financial control in January 1992, refused to approve any more expenditures; in addition, the studio and bond company instructed Lee that the film could be no longer than two hours, fifteen minutes in length.[7] The resulting conflict caused the project to be shut down in post-production.[5]

The film was saved by the financial intervention of prominent black Americans, some of whom appear in the film: Bill Cosby, Oprah Winfrey, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Janet Jackson, Prince, and Peggy Cooper Cafritz, founder of the Duke Ellington School of the Arts. Their contributions were made as donations; as Lee noted: "This is not a loan. They are not investing in the film. These are black folks with some money who came to the rescue of the movie. As a result, this film will be my version. Not the bond company's version, not Warner Brothers'. I will do the film the way it ought to be, and it will be over three hours."[7] The actions of such prominent members of the African American community spurred the bond company and Warner Bros. to continue with the project.[4][5]

Request for black interviewers

"I'm doing what every other person in Hollywood does: they dictate who they want to do interviews with. Tom Cruise, Robert Redford, whoever. People throw their weight around. Well, I get many requests now for interviews, and I would like African-Americans to interview me. [. . .] Spike Lee has never said he only wants black journalists to interview him. What I'm doing is using whatever clout I have to get qualified African-Americans assignments. The real crime is white publications don't have black writers, that's the crime."
— Spike Lee explaining his request for black interviewers[10]

A month before the film was released, Spike Lee asked that media outlets send black journalists to interview him. The request proved controversial. While it was common practice for celebrities to pick interviewers who were known to be sympathetic to them, it was the first time in many years in which race had been used as a qualification. Lee clarified that he was not barring white interviewers from interviewing him, but that he felt, given the subject matter of the film, that black writers have "more insight about Malcolm than white writers."[10]

The request was turned down by the Los Angeles Times, but several others agreed including Premiere magazine, Vogue, Interview and Rolling Stone. The Los Angeles Times explained they did not give writer approval. The editor of Premiere noted that the request created internal discussions that resulted in changes at the magazine: "Had we had a history of putting a lot of black writers on stories about the movie industry we'd be in a stronger position. But we didn't. It was an interesting challenge he laid down. It caused some personnel changes. We've hired a black writer and a black editor."[10]

Filming

Malcolm X's widow, Dr. Betty Shabazz, served as a consultant to the film.[6] The Fruit of Islam, the defense arm of the Nation of Islam, provided security for the movie.[9]

Although he had portrayed Malcolm X in the play, "When the Chickens Come Home to Roost", which which dealt with the relationship between Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad, Denzel Washington admitted he knew little about Malcolm X and had not read The Autobiography of Malcolm X when he took the role. He prepared by reading books and articles by and about Malcolm X and went over hours of tape and film footage of speeches. The play opened in 1981 and earned Washington a warm review by Frank Rich, who was at the time the chief theater critic of The New York Times. Upon being cast in the film, he interviewed people who knew Malcolm X, among them Betty Shabazz and two of his brothers. Although they had different upbringings, Washington tried to focus on what he had in common with his character: Washington was close to Malcolm X's age when he was assassinated, both men were from large families, both of their fathers were ministers, and both were raised primarily by their mothers.[9]

Malcolm X is the first non-documentary, and the first American film, to be given permission to film in Mecca (or within the Haram Sharif). A second unit film crew was hired to film in Mecca because non-Muslims, such as Spike Lee, were not allowed inside the city. Lee fought very hard to get filming in Mecca for Warner Bros. would not put up the money for location shooting. Originally, talk went around that places in New Jersey would be used for the Mecca segments. In the end, Lee got money and permission together for the Mecca segments.

In addition to Nelson Mandela, the film featured cameos by Christopher Plummer (as the prison's Catholic chaplain), Peter Boyle (as a police officer), William Kunstler (as a judge), as well as civil rights activists Al Sharpton and Black Panther Party co-founder Bobby Seale (as street preachers).[11]

The film was made in the shortly after Mandela's 1990 release from prison and during the negotiations to end apartheid in South Africa. Lee explained that he made "the connection between Soweto and Harlem, Nelson and Malcolm, and what Malcolm talked about: pan-Africanism, trying to build these bridges between people of color. He is alive in children in classrooms in Harlem, in classrooms in Soweto."[2] Mandela ends the film with a quote from Malcolm X himself, with Malcolm in a film clip saying the last four words. The quote goes: "We declare our right on this earth, to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being, in this society, on this earth, in this day, which we intend to bring into existance by any means necessary".

Reception

Malcolm X was released in North America on November 18, 1992. The film was critically well-received, garnering 90% on movie review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes.[12] Denzel Washington's portrayal of Malcolm X was widely praised and he was nominated for Academy Award for Best Actor. Washington lost to Al Pacino, a decision which Lee criticized, saying "I'm not the only one who thinks Denzel was robbed on that one."[13] The movie received a number of awards at other festivals.[14]

The film grossed $9,871,125 in its opening weekend and finished third after Home Alone 2: Lost in New York ($30 million) and Bram Stoker's Dracula ($15 million).[3] According to Box Office Mojo, the film ended its run with a gross of $48,169,610.

The film was widely praised upon its release. Roger Ebert ranked it #1 on his Top 10 list for 1992. He said, "Along with Lawrence of Arabia and Gandhi, it's one of the all-time great biopics."[cite this quote] Ebert and Martin Scorsese both ranked Malcolm X among the ten best films of the 1990s.[15]

References

  1. ^ "Malcolm X (1992)". Box Office Mojo. http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=malcolmx.htm. Retrieved October 18, 2008. 
  2. ^ a b c Sheila Rule, FILM; Malcolm X: The Facts, the Fictions, the Film, The New York Times, November 15, 1992. Retrieved February 24, 2010.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Bernard Weinraub, A Movie Producer Remembers The Human Side of Malcolm X, The New York Times, November 23, 1992. Retrieved June 18, 2008.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h David Ansen and Spike Lee, The Battle For Malcolm X, Newsweek, Accessed May 31, 2010.
  5. ^ a b c d Scott Tobias, Malcolm X, The Onion A/V Club, February 15, 2005, Accessed May 15, 2008.
  6. ^ a b c d Evelyn Nieves, Malcolm X: Firestorm Over a Film Script, The New York Times, August 9, 1991, Accessed May 15, 2008.
  7. ^ a b c Lena Williams, Spike Lee Says Money From Blacks Saved 'X', The New York Times, May 20, 1992, Accessed May 15, 2008.
  8. ^ Nat Tunbridge (April 11, 2005). "Malcolm X: Special Edition". DVD Times. http://www.dvdtimes.co.uk/content.php?contentid=56742. Retrieved October 3, 2009. 
  9. ^ a b c Lena Williams, Playing With Fire, The New York Times, October 25, 1992, Accessed May 15, 2008.
  10. ^ a b c Bernard Weinraub, Spike Lee's Request: Black Interviewers Only, The New York Times, October 29, 1992, Accessed May 23, 2008.
  11. ^ Vincent Canby, Review/Film; 'Malcolm X,' as Complex as Its Subject, The New York Times, November 18, 1992, Accessed May 23, 2008.
  12. ^ "Malcolm X Movie Reviews, Pictures". Rotten Tomatoes. http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/1042135-malcolm_x/. Retrieved July 18, 2010. 
  13. ^ DVDTalk.com. "Spike Lee on Malcolm X". Dvdtalk.com. http://www.dvdtalk.com/interviews/spike_lee_on_ma.html. Retrieved July 18, 2010. 
  14. ^ http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0104797/awards
  15. ^ Anderson, Jeffrey M. "The Best Films of the 1990s". Combustible Celluloid. http://www.combustiblecelluloid.com/bestof90s.shtml. Retrieved June 21, 2010. 

External links


Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Malcolm X is a 1992 biographical film about the life and times of the African American activist and Black nationalist Malcolm X.

Directed, produced and written by Spike Lee. Based on The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley.

Dialogue

Malcolm X: We had the best organization a black man's ever had. Niggers ruined it.

Baines: A man curses because he doesn't have the words to say what's on his mind.

[Witnessing Malcolm's control over a mob]
Captain Green: That's too much power for one man to have.

Elijah Muhammad: You will be on the public eye. Beware on them cameras. Oh, them cameras are bad as any narcotic.

Malcolm X: The only thing I like intergrated is my coffee.

Rudy: I'm half wop, I'm half nigger. I not afraid of nobody.

Malcolm X: We didn't land on Plymouth Rock. Plymouth Rock landed on us!

Eulogy Performer: Here - at this final hour, in this quiet place - Harlem has come to bid farewell to one of its brightest hopes - extinguished now, and gone from us forever. For Harlem is where he worked and and where he struggled and fought - his home of homes, where his heart is, and where his people are - and it is, therefore, most fitting that we meet once again - in Harlem - to share these last moments with him. For Harlem has ever been gracious to those who have loved her, have fought her, and have defended her honor ever to the death.

Malcolm X: Cats that hung out together trying to find a solution found nothing. Cats that might have proved space or cured cancer, West Indian Archie might have been a mathematical genius... but we were all victims of the American social order.

Major cast

External links

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