In celebration of Black History Month, we’re making daily movie recommendations, presented in chronological order of the films’ stories.
Stay tuned to Noovie every day as we highlight an original, landmark film worth revisiting or discovering for the first time.
February 10 – Malcolm X (1925 – 1965)
Spike Lee’s 1992 biopic about the legendary activist/leader Malcolm X was a long time in the making. It is based on Alex Haley and Malcolm X’s 1965 book “The Autobiography of Malcolm X,” and screenplays had been attempted for decades before Lee came to the project in the ‘80s. The final script here is from Lee himself, with additional contributions from Arnold Perl, who died in 1971.
The project from Warner Bros. also originally was set to be made with Caucasian director Norman Jewison at the helm, with Denzel Washington in the starring role. While Washington, also Lee’s favored choice, remained, the producers eventually agreed with Lee that the film needed to be produced with a black director. The final results in this epic take on the pivotal times of Malcolm X’s life bear that out – this is some of Lee’s most indelible and personal filmmaking, and a monumental performance from Denzel Washington. Watch the Trailer
Famed critic Roger Ebert called “Malcolm X” the best film of 1992, and a biopic of the best kind. It is an incredible, well-told story that follows Malcolm Little (his birth name) through several stages of his life. Audiences see right away that he came from a troubled background, where his preacher father was murdered, and his mother was sent to an institution.
Put in foster care, the young Malcom hit the streets and a life of petty crime, despite being an excellent student in school. Along with partners in crime that included two white women, Malcolm was eventually caught and put in jail for several years. There, he learned the ways and became a member of the Nation of Islam. He adopted their teachings and lifestyle, and after being released from prison, he rapidly rose through the ranks to become a popular spokesperson for the Nation. He preached about blacks’ needs to be independent from white American. At the same time, he met his wife Betty (who in real life would become an advisor on Lee's movie).
Later in life, Malcolm's views would change once more. After taking a trip to Mecca and coming into contact with Muslim people of all different races, his positions softened, and he became more reflective. Before his death in 1965 at the hands of members of the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X had started to turn away from ideas of violence, and had been advocating for more tolerance through his group the Organization of Afro-American Unity.
All of the stages in his life are captured here in vivid, memorable detail, through Lee’s empathetic filmmaking, and a possessed performance by Denzel Washington, who’d previously played the leader off Broadway in the play “When the Chickens Come Home to Roost.”
Arguably Spike Lee’s most epic and important historical film, “Malcolm X” is an absolute must-see in the director’s filmography, released after his celebrated “Do the Right Thing,” and before such works as “4 Little Girls” and “BlackKkKlansman” (which starred Denzel’s son John David Washington).
It was selected by the U.S. Film Registry for preservation in 2010, and Washington was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor.
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About the Author
Chuck is an editor/writer who's worked for NCM, Fandango, Movies.com, MediaTrip, Hollywood.com and Newsweek. His favorite movie is "Jaws." He's definitely a dog guy.