Malcolm X - Review (1992)

This is the first of a series of reviews of films released on the (fairly mundane) year of my birth – 1992. Luckily, I wont need to do much annoying '90's kid' type reminiscing, because aside from Scent of a Woman and a few other mentionables, the year is filled with horribly/beautifully tacky family friendly stuff from the states. But to start, the intriguing, Malcolm X.

Although the name may be misleading, its biographical (i.e. an Academy Award farm), so we know the drill here folks – partially tough childhood, interesting teenage years, making it 'big' and the sorts and the usual dismally depressing ending, I was also expecting some latent homosexuality in there for good measure (which there was none of). To save you a trip to his wikipedia page or to the closest American history book, here's a quick run-down: Malcolm X is an African-American civil rights activist and Muslim minister who's main activity was most noticeable in the early 60s as the civil rights movement started to take shape in America. The film explores the dramatization of his incarceration, his conversion to Islam, his pilgrimage to Mecca and some of his most inspirational speeches all reinacted by the great Denzel Washington.

While you will have to look hard to find anything new here in regards to script (actually maybe it was considered 'new' in '92), what makes the film worth the watch is Malcolm's extremist views on things like racial segregation, religion and life.

Mr X makes Harvey Milk and Gandhi look like total push overs. It is a breath of fresh air to find a character that isn’t instantly the 'good guy'. He spends most of the feature expressing his love of segregation and his discontent towards everything involving the white man. The black supremacist ideas are strange to hear, especially when I only knew a bare minimum before entering on the 3 hour long adventure, but at the same time, it did make me wish I was a black man for a while.

The entire backdrop; the segregation of African-Americans, varying events during the 60s and a world full of racist and bigots – has been done to death. The most recent example being The Help. What Spike Lee manages to do however, is completely blank that out for a nice big chunk of the film with some really colourful cinematography and a brilliant feel good swing soundtrack. What he creates in the process is a real carefree c'est la vie feel about it. Which although is really nice, it is also very uncomfortable to watch when you know what's going on on the outside world, especially when you’re just waiting for the protagonist to become engulfed by its problems.

But I guess that is the issue with most biological films, you know the start and the end - it's a waiting game really.

It is these types of movies that really show an actors true worth, especially when there is epic speeches involved. Although the Oscar went to Al Pacino for Scent of a Woman, the film showed Denzel Washington's true star potential. His speeches are what really make it for me. I'm not sure if it's the content or the way they are spoken that really portrays Washington as a master of his art. Although his character is shown at all of his weak points throughout his life he is still successfully portrayed as a powerful and dominating human being – much like the real Malcolm did I'd assume.

I want to see this movie remade today. That's something I'll most likely never say again (insert reference to Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Clash of the Titans). But my reason why isn’t that it was in any way outdated or irrelevant but that it's take on Islam is quite shocking and very 'anti-American' in this day and age. I briefly knew of the somewhat bizarre rise in Afro-American Islam during the 60s from Mohammed Ali, and from his self given name, and when I discovered that the film was going to take a religious tone, and in the form of an Anti-American religion, I couldn’t help but feel a little uncomfortable. With discrimination towards the religion so rampant today in the states, I felt a desperate need to see it remade, with modern America's opinions intact, and see how much would change.

While the film itself successfully shows some of the turmoil of the black community of the time, the production of the feature itself ironically shows what turmoil remains today. Not only was the idea of it being made into a film controversial through its hatred towards white America (that same white America whom feature films are targeted at) but the race of those involved came into debate when white director Norman Jewison, who surprisingly isn’t Jewish, was wanted to direct the film. People through up a fuss and Spike Lee was later chosen. In my opinion, this debate is pretty disrespectful to Malcolm X himself as he was one of the guys ultimately saying 'race doesn’t matter'.

Ultimately, Malcolm X is too obsessive, too long and too preachy at places. The cameo from Nelson Mandela and the real footage of the man in action however do help remind us that he once actually existed, rather than just being a by-product of a film. As Hollywood goes however, it's fairly controversial and an interesting test of film making and its audiences. And heck, I'm sure it is a nice go-to film for teenage history students all across America.