Malcolm X (1992)

malcolm x poster 1992 movie denzel washington
9.5 Overall Score
Story: 9/10
Acting: 10/10
Visuals: 10/10

One of Denzel Washington and Spike Lee's best

Movie is long but it does flow

Movie Info

Movie Name: Malcolm X

Studio: 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks

Genre(s): Drama

Release Date(s): November 18, 1992

MPAA Rating: PG-13

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Zoot Suit Riot?

Malcolm Little (Denzel Washington) is on a journey.  Born into violence against his family by the Klan, and discovering the only means of real social moment is crime, Malcolm finds trouble…and learns trouble was looking for him.  Sentenced to prison, Malcolm meets Bains (Albert Hall) who reveals to him that black men in America are subject to the laws that were made to keep them down.  Malcolm Little changes his name to Malcolm X and joins the cause.  Marrying Betty Shabazz (Angela Bassett), Malcolm X rises in the ranks of the Nation of Islam, but sowing seeds of discontent leads to danger.

Directed by Spike Lee (who helped write the script with Arnold Perl), Malcolm X is a biopic drama.  Following Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever in 1991, the film was based on Alex Haley’s 1965 The Autobiography of Malcolm X.   The film was released to wide praise and received Academy Award nominations for Best Actor (Washington) and Best Costume Design.  The movie was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry in 2010.

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Finding a path

Many feel that Malcolm X was snubbed.  Often looking back at nominations, I say “ok, but what should have been left out that was nominated”.  I initially saw Malcolm X on two VHS tapes when it was new and I was too young to understand a lot of what was going on and the nuances of the story…and watching it again, looking at the nominations, and considering the film, Malcolm X was robbed at the Oscars…but Malcolm X would have expected that.

The movie does the biopic right, and despite its length, it does flow.  Often historical pictures elevate and glamorize the lead.  They face adversity, rise above it, and the movie ends with their death.  While Malcolm X follows this pattern, there is an honesty to it.  I feel that Malcolm X puts on a brave face, believes in what he is doing when he is doing it, but honestly doesn’t know all the answers.  The vision of Malcolm shifts after his pilgrimage to Mecca in 1964, and in general, the character changes and grows throughout the film…it does raise a good question of where Malcolm X would have ended up in the history books if his life hadn’t been cut short.

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Another direction

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not the biggest Denzel fan.  He’s a solid actor, but like Tom Hanks, I often feel that he’s just gunning for an Oscar.  Despite this, his portrayal of Malcolm X is fantastic.  It is the role that everyone wants.  Malcolm X goes through so many changes in the course of the film, and Denzel weaves and punches with every change.  He gets to be the “bad guy” trapped in a societal role, an inspirational leader, a father, and someone who sees his fate coming.  He nails every nuance of Malcolm X if you go back and watch X’s speeches and gives the character heart that is accessible for all viewers.

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What is his legacy?

The movie also looks fantastic.  Spike Lee captures the moment…the anger, the fear, and the world that Malcolm X inhabits feels real and feels authentic.  It is stylish and since it is a “period piece”, it holds up over the years.

Malcolm X is one of the better movies of the 1990s.  It has aged well and is more relevant today than in the past though it does take some liberties with Malcolm X’s path.  While Martin Luther King Jr. is often heralded, Malcolm X is often a more tricky piece of history (especially for different races) to tackle, but Spike Lee presents a man who is complex, rounded, and asks the right questions…the answers can be upsetting and debated, but the film paints it right.  Spike Lee followed Malcolm X with Crooklyn in 1994.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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