In honor of Spike Lee’s next feature “BlacKkKlansman” approaching into theaters soon, here’s my review of his 1992 film “Malcolm X.”
It’s not often these days we get biographies that take their time to get to know the real-life characters and their goals and situations. “Malcolm X,” directed by Spike Lee (who acts in his own film), runs for over 3 hours, and that gives us enough time to see what goes down in the activist’s life.
Denzel Washington was nominated an Oscar for his performance as Malcolm X (1925-1965), who came from hard times, and went on to become a minister and Human Rights activist. He introduces himself, beginning with how his life began. His family was violated by the KKK, his mother was wrongfully placed in the funny farm, and he has been in many foster homes.
Years later in his manhood, he has an affair with a white girl (Kate Vernon), becomes a burglar, under the wing of West Indian Archie (Delory Lindo), and gets thrown in jail with his buddy Shorty (Lee) for those two crimes. And in prison, he befriends an inmate named Baines (Albert Hall), who shows him the way of life-the real meaning of the words “black” and “white.”
And out of prison, he starts spreading the words about Nation of Islam and the white society against it, and he even meets his future wife Betty Shabazz (Angela Bassett) in the process. In spite of the protests and threats aimed against Malcolm, he’s not going down without a fight.
“Malcolm X” is a Black History movie like no other-one that shows us the activist’s strengths, weaknesses, commitments, and ambitions. The dialogue here is powerful in the ways the characters are outspoken and brave, and other than the KKK, nobody here is scared. And seeing the violence and protesting threatens me. This is a f*cking fearless movie, and I loved it.
Washington’s performance is extraordinary. Extraordinary in the ways he chooses his words, extraordinary in the ways he brings the character to life, and extraordinary in the ways he opens our eyes. Speaking to today’s generation, you’ve never seen anything like it.
The costumes in this movie are dapper. The movie opens with Malcolm in his jazzy outfits when he paints the town red, and continues with his blue prison clothes, and black and grey suits. And add hairstyles and glasses in the mix, and you have a handsome man.
And in its supporting cast, you get some terrific work from Lee, Lindo, Bassett, Al Freeman, Jr. as Elijah Muhammad (1897-1975), who becomes Malcolm’s mentor, and Christopher Plummer as a White Priest, whom Malcolm argues with about the true skin colors of God and Jesus. This is exceptional acting.
With flexible editing, bold dialogue, a great cast, and Lee’s direction, you have yourself a masterpiece.