Malcolm X (1992)

 

 

Director:      Spike Lee.

Starring:     Gene Hackman (Agent Rupert Anderson),  Willem Dafoe (Agent Alan Ward),  Frances McDormand (Mrs. Pell),  Brad Dourif (Deputy Clinton Pell),  R. Lee Ermey (Mayor Tilman),  Gailard Sartain (Sheriff Ray Stuckey),  Stephen Tobolowsky (Clayton Townley),  Michael Rooker (Frank Bailey),  Pruitt Taylor Vince (Lester Cowans),  Badja Djola (Agent Monk),  Kevin Dunn (Agent Bird).

biography of Malcolm X

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

Minister Malcolm X delivers a racist speech against the white race. He’s good at being a demagogue and he certainly riles up the crowd.

Flashback. Boston. The World War II years. Shorty is getting his shoes shined. He is wearing what is called a zoot suit. It is an impressive suit, but at the same time a really "loud" suit. He walks over to a barber shop. He asks the barber Sassy where is their friend Malcolm Little? He’s in the back fixing to get his "first conk" laid on. Malcolm sits in the chair and Shorty starts laying the grease down on the man’s hair. Malcolm is afraid of the treatment because he has heard it can really get so hot that it becomes extremely painful. The older men are really laughing at him as he starts to panic over the heat. Eventually, he can’t take it anymore and he forces himself out of the chair and over to the sink where Shorty starts rinsing his hair. When Malcolm sees the results he is very pleased, asking: "It looks white, don’t it?"

Shorty and Malcolm get on their zoot suites and walk the streets of Harlem getting a lot of attention for their get-ups.

Flashback to Malcolm’s youth. Malcolm as narrator tells of the time when his mother was pregnant with him, the Klan came riding up to their cabin in Omaha, Nebraska. The Klan shouted for his father to come out. His mother came out to tell the Klan that her husband was in Milwaukee preaching. The Klan tells her that her husband had better get out of town or else. Before leaving, they bust all the windows in the cabin with their rifle butts.

Malcolm’s father was a big man, 6 feet 4 inches, and very strong. He was a follower of the separatist Marcus Garvey and preached that American blacks should go back to Africa.

Flashback to life in Boston. In their fancy zoot suites Shorty and Malcolm get their pictures taken by a photographer. Then they go dancing. A really big woman grabs Shorty and starts dancing with him. Malcolm encourages him on. Then Malcolm starts dancing with a young woman named Laura.

When the dance is over, Shorty notices that a white girl is staring at Malcolm. He draws Malcolm’s attention to her and he looks at her. She motions for him to come over and they dance. Her name is Sophia and Malcolm is called Red because the treatment for his hair turns it reddish. Sophia tells Malcolm to take his girl home and then come back to the dance.

Malcolm says goodbye to Laura on the porch of her house. She tells Malcolm that she knows what’s going on. He’s going to go back to the dance to be with that white girl. Red tells her he will call her tomorrow.

Down by the water Red and Sophia kiss in her car.

Flashback to Malcolm’s youth. Malcolm’s father has been beaten and placed on the trolley tracks. A trolley car runs over him. The death is declared a suicide instead of a homicide as it should have been, thereby denying the life insurance money to his mother.

Flashback to life in Boston. Malcolm asks Sophia: "What’s your story?" Is she just looking for colored studs? He then has her kiss his foot. Her next assignment is to feed him his breakfast in bed. He knows she plans to marry a wealthy white man. Laura and Malcolm go for a walk on the beach. They kiss. Then they start to make out, but Malcolm stops himself, saying: "No, this ain’t right."

Flashback to Malcolm’s youth. Malcolm’s mother does not like the white female social worker at all. The white woman says there is the serious question as to whether she can raise her children all by herself. After all, all her children are delinquent and Malcolm is a thief. Mrs. Little throws the lady out. But her children were parceled out. Malcolm was sent to a detention home in a white woman’s house.

In school he was the only black kid in the class and Malcolm says he became sort of a mascot, like a pink poodle. In private the white male teacher talks to Malcolm about his future. He says that they are all like Malcolm here at the school. But wanting to be a lawyer is unrealistic. After all, ". . .you’re a nigger . . ."  Malcolm is crushed, objecting that he has the highest grades in the class and was voted class president.

Malcolm says that taking his mother’s children away from her was the beginning of the end for her. She is placed in an asylum.

Flashback to life in Boston. Malcolm is working on the train now. He and the fellows listen to a championship boxing match between black man Joe Louis and white man Billy Conn. When Joe wins, the guys go crazy with excitement and joy. Their white boss comes in and yells and them. The men "yes" the boss, but not Malcolm. He refers to Mr. Cooper as "Mr. Charlie". Mr. Cooper becomes angry over this. As soon as Mr. Cooper leaves, the men start berating Malcolm.  They want to know what the hell is the matter with him? Is he deliberately trying to get them fired? One man says: "Mr. Cooper is good white folk!" They all agree that Malcolm is a young fool.

Malcolm goes through the first class cars with sandwiches, deserts and coffee with a huge grin on his face. It’s like he is mocking the role he is forced to play with the white folk.

Malcolm goes down to Harlem dressed in his zoot suite. The blacks are going crazy celebrating the victory of Joe Louis. Malcolm almost gets knocked down by the crowd. He joins in with the crowd, shouting and screaming and kissing some girls.

Malcolm goes into a black bar and gets bumped hard by an older man. The man starts insulting Malcolm and then messes with his hat. Malcolm did try to walk away, but the guy stopped him. So Malcolm grabs a liquor bottle from the bar and bashes it over the head of the bully.

A hoodlum named West Indian Archie likes what Malcolm did and invites him over to drink with him. Archie has two henchmen with him. Archie and Red get along well. Archie says he likes Red’s style. He "hires" Red. First thing they do together is get Red some more appropriate clothes (dropping those zoot suites he wears). He then gives Red a pistol.

Malcolm starts taking bets, even in church of all places. Together with Sophia, Red gets introduced by Archie to hard drugs. Malcolm bets on the number 218 with Archie. Later in the bar Paradise, a black bar maid wants to know why Red stood her up last night? Red sees Laura comes into the bar, chased by a man who seems to be in love with her. Red watches the couple and the bar maid gets jealous. Red starts asking the bar maid about Laura. The bar maid gets angry and then Red gets even angrier at her attitude. He gets up and is going to hit the woman, but Archie stops him. He gives the bar maid some money, tell her to get herself something and don’t pay any attention to Red and to what he was about to do.

Red tries to con Archie by saying that his number, 821, hit. Archie says Red didn’t have 821. Red says he did have that number. Archie tells him not to do this, so Red says he will forget it, but he wants Archie to know that he is slipping up. Archie is angry, so he gives Red the $600 dollars. He then gets up and leaves.

Sam, one of Archie’s henchmen, tells Red that he has been with the boss for 22 years and he has never known Archie to forget a number. And all Archie has to do is check with the collector for an oversight. Sam says: ". . . Red, if you’re lying, you’re a dead man. Dead. Dead. Dead."

Billie Holiday sings in a club. In the audience is Red and Sophia. Archie comes in and tells Red that he and Sophia are both damn liars. He wants Red to go with him. There are three guns on Red.

Red starts walking past the singer, but then bolts away from everyone. He runs to the bathroom, opens the rear window and jumps out. Then he runs like hell down the street.

Flashback to Malcolm’s youth. The Nebraska house is set afire by the Klan. Everyone has to rush out of the house in order to save themselves. When they are all outside, a Klansmen tells Mr. Little to get out of town, because he’s been stirring up the black community with all his talk of Marcus Garvey. But Malcolm’s dad had a pistol on him and he starts shooting at the Klan members, deliberately not shooting to hit anyone. The Klan takes off as fast as they can go.

A beaten up Mr. Little is laid down on the trolley tracks and a man says to him: "That’ll teach you, nigger!" The trolley cars runs over Mr. Little.

Back in Boston. Sophia, Shorty and Red head up to Boston. Red says that they are now going to rob the town blind. A black-Italian fellow named Rudy works for a lot of rich people and has his own fences. He figures he will be the leader of the gang. But Red has other ideas. He starts a Russian roulette game with Rudy with one bullet in the pistol’s cylinder. Red puts the gun to his head and pulls the trigger twice. He then puts the pistol to Rudy’s nose and pulls the trigger. He is going to repeat the stunt, but Rudy caves and gives up leadership. (Shorty finds out later that Red "palmed" that bullet.)

Shorty and Red rob a wealthy man’s house, while the two white women and Rudy wait outside with the car. They commit other jobs too, but after awhile the law arrests them. The girls got two years in prison while the judge threw the book at the two black guys, with a minimum of 10 years at hard labor. Malcolm as narrator says they got so much time because their real crime was having sex with two white girls.

In prison for the first time in his life, Red runs into some black Muslims. The Muslims sees some promise in Little and start to work on him. But Little is to hard-headed and is going to fight the guards all the way. He gets thrown into solitary confinement, but when his time is up he still won’t cooperate, so he stays in ten days more. This pattern continues until Little starts breaking down mentally. They pull him out of his cell after he finally says his prison number.

The leader of the black Muslims, Baines, gives Malcolm some nutmeg to lessen the pain of withdrawing from drugs. At first Malcolm resists what Baines is preaching. But Baines does ask some good questions, like what makes Malcolm ashamed of being black? Baines doesn’t like seeing Malcolm conk his hair to look white.

Malcolm thinks about the things that Baines told him. He stays behinds at work to talk to Baines. Malcolm asks Baines what’s his angle in all this, because Baines is the only man who acts like this in the prison.

Malcolm starts talking regularly with Baines. Baines uses a lot of helpful self-improvement tips for Malcolm that certainly will help him dp better himself as long as he follow the new regime. Baines also says that God is black. Malcolm goes to the library. Baines soon has him learning each word in the dictionary. He starts writing out the whole dictionary.

Good news comes. Black ball player Jackie Robinson is now playing with the Brooklyn Dodgers, a formerly all white team. Baines is not impressed. He talks about the blue-eyed devil, the white man. Malcolm Little soon changes his name to Malcolm X, because Little is a slave name.

Baines has Malcolm go through a ceremony making him a black Muslim. He receives a letter from the leader of all the Muslims in America, the honorable Elijah Muhammad. Malcolm has a vision of Elijah Muhammad sitting in a chair in front of him.

Baines is now a free man. He tells Malcolm that as soon as he gets out of prison, to come straight to him and the Muslims in Chicago.

In prison Malcolm debates with the Chaplain that Jesus is not white, but black.

Malcolm gets out of prison and gets an interview with Elijah Muhammad. A tear comes down the face of Malcolm as he enters the office of his exalted leader. The leader says he believes that Malcolm will remain faithful. Malcolm preaches on the streets of Harlem. He also preaches in a room to the Muslims. In the back of the room he sees his old friend Shorty. Malcolm talks to the people about how he and Shorty were thieves together, they both had sex with white women and they both went to prison at the same time. He goes over to Shorty and asks for a hug. Shorty and he hug each other to the applause of those in the room.

After the meeting, Malcolm tells Shorty he has been clean of drugs for eight years. They talk about the old gang they used to know. Malcolm asks specifically about Archie and is told that he lives in the Bronx. So Malcolm pays Archie a visit. Archie remembers Red all right. The two men talk. Archie is in bad shape. He tells Red that he wasn’t going to shoot him in that dispute over the bet.

Laura, now a prostitute, sees Malcolm preaching. She avoids him. A young woman named Betty listens to Malcolm preaching. Baines introduces Sister Betty to Malcolm. Malcolm and she go out to eat something and talk together.

Malcolm gets the news that Brother Johnson was attacked by the police. He decides to do something about the situation. He and his two right-hand men go into the police station demanding to see Brother Johnson. They asks Malcolm who the hell is he? He’s the minister of Muslim Temple no. 7. They tell Malcolm to get lost, but he tells them they better look outside the window. There they see a lot of Muslim men in suits standing as if they were part of a military force. The police at the desk decide to be reasonable. They admit they have Brother Johnson. Malcolm gets to see the battered man and yells for the police to get an ambulance immediately.

The brothers now march down to the hospital to check on Brother Johnson’s progress. The marching men draw a lot of attention and a huge crowd forms around them. The crowd starts shouting at the police while the Muslim men stay in formation.

A police captain speaks with Malcolm. He says he wants all these men moved out of here. But Malcolm insists on knowing about Brother Johnson before they move. A black doctor comes out and tells Malcolm that Brother Johnson will live. Now Malcolm moves his men. The captain comments: "That’s too much power for one man to have."

One of the non-Muslims is so impressed at what he saw, that he comes to Malcolm to ask to join the Muslims. Malcolm speaks with him. He tells him to come by the temple at 8 o’clock tomorrow.

Elijah Muhammad introduces Malcolm X as his national minister. And now Malcolm calls Sister Betty Saunders to ask her to marry him. She says yes immediately. They get married in a small ceremony.

Malcolm does a lot of public speaking. He dedicates four new temples. He complains about the whites calling the black Muslims racial supremacists and the Jews calling them anti-Semitic. He preaches against turning the other cheek. On the television there is a lot of coverage of the civil rights movement. He says many of the civil rights leaders are Uncle Toms. Malcolm also insists that the black man has the right to self-defense.

On a program called "Our World Today" Malcolm talks about his new name of X. Black Dr. Payson says Mr. X is a demagogue. Betty is in the audience. Baines and Elijah Muhammad watch the program together and Baines tells him that the ministers think that Malcolm is getting far too much attention in the press. Elijah, however, is still much attached to Malcolm.

A young, pretty co-ed asks Malcolm what a white person like herself cam do to help further the cause? Malcolm just says: "Nothing." He talks to a mostly white student group. He tells a conference of Muslims that there is going to be a racial explosion soon in the United States and complete separation between the whites and the blacks.

At home Betty tells Malcolm he is in trouble. She says they are going to have their first fight if he doesn’t start talking to her. She is concerned about what she has been reading about Elijah Muhammad. Two Muslim women bring paternity suits against the leader. Malcolm says this is the devil’s newspapers and they are lying. Betty thinks Malcolm is blind. She also says that he is away too much. Betty is raising the children virtually by herself. She says: "Open your eyes."

Malcolm goes to speak to the two women with paternity suites against Elijah Muhammad. He also speaks with Baines, who tells him to be careful what he says about Elijah Muhammad. Then he talks with the top Muslim leader. Surprisingly, the leaders tells him that he must spread his seed for it is only the fulfillment of prophecy.

Malcolm sees all this as a personal betrayal. At home Betty asks him what Muhammad said. She realizes that what he said was not good and says she’s sorry to Malcolm.

And then Malcolm goes too far.  The whole nation mourns the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, President of the United States. And Malcolm X says: "I say the white man’s acts of violence should be condemned by our beliefs and by his own. . . . I say it’s justice." Then worse comes. At a press conference he says: "I don’t think anyone here would deny that when you send your chickens out in the morning from your barnyard, those chickens will return that evening to your barnyard, not your neighbor’s barnyard. It’s an example of the devil’s chickens coming back home to roost. . . . Now being an old farm boy myself, chickens coming home to roost never made me sad. In fact, it’s only made me glad." Which means that Kennedy caused his own death, and deservedly so, through his own terrible actions.

Elijah Muhammad calls Malcolm in to talk to him about his remarks. He says: "That was a bad statement you made. You knew from my instructions, no minister was to make any statements against this man. The country loved this man. You have made it hard for Muslims in general. We must disassociate ourselves from your terrible blunder. I must silence you for 90 days."

Betty gets a phone call. She tells the voice on the other side to stop calling them. Malcolm comes in while she is talking on the phone. He sees that she is upset. One of Malcolm’s bodyguard now says that the higher ups told him to wire Malcolm’s car to explode when he turned the ignition. The ministers say terrible things about Malcolm. He’s a traitor, a Judas, a Benedict Arnold – that his tongue should be cut out and delivered to Muhammad’s doorstep. To save the young bodyguard, Malcolm tells him to leave and don’t come back.

Malcolm gives a press conference. He says he has been forced out of the Nation of Islam. Now he will be speaking for just himself. Malcolm also says he wants to work with the other black leaders to work out common solution to common problems. He will also have a new mosque in New York City to be known as Muslim Mosque, Incorporated.

Malcolm decides to make a holy journey to Mecca. He lands in Egypt and goes to see the Pyramids and the Sphinx. Malcolm thinks that it’s two white CIA agents who are following him around.

Malcolm goes to Saudi Arabia and Mecca. He says all the races were mixed together. He prayed to the same God as whites with blue eyes. As a result of his spiritual rebirth, he takes back his condemnation of all whites. He writes: "I am not a racist." And he believes that the Muslim faith can erase the cancer of racism.

When Malcolm returns, with the start of a beard, he speaks of the great sense of brotherhood he experienced in Mecca. At the news conference, a black fellow shouts: "Get your hand out of my pocket!" The man then just walks away.

Malcolm watches out from the blinds with an automatic weapon in his hands. He gets a phone call: "Malcolm, you one dead, red nigger." This is hard on him and on his wife. He tells Betty he is sorry that he wasn’t a better husband.

Someone throws a Molotov cocktail through a window. Malcolm and Betty have to get themselves and their girls out of there. Malcolm blames Elijah Muhammad for this. A group of Malcolm’s closest supporters drive up in a car. Malcolm posts them as guards around the area.  Meanwhile, the would-be assassins are making sure their weapons are ready for action.

Malcolm goes to the New York Hilton to stay. He calls into his right hand man, Earl. Earl says he wants to frisk everyone coming into the Audubon Ballroom for the talk tomorrow. Malcolm says no. They must make people feel comfortable.

There is a Harlem Y Youth Dance in the Audubon Ballroom. Some of the assassins come in to check out the Ballroom. Two of the assassins ask for Malcolm X at the front desk. Malcolm keeps getting calls. He keeps picking up the phone and setting it back down. Betty gets a hate call on the phone. Malcolm calls home and tells Betty to stop answering the phone to avoid getting the hate calls. He also doesn’t want Betty to come to the Audubon Ballroom.

The FBI listens to Malcolm’s phone call. One agents says that, compared to Martin Luther King, Malcolm is a monk.

Malcolm drives himself to the ballroom. The assassins also drive to the ballroom. Betty and the family arrive at the ballroom. Malcolm arrives a little later. All the speakers call in to cancel their speeches.

Earl asks Malcolm what’s wrong?  Malcolm says: "It’s a time for martyrs now." He says he shouldn’t go out there today, but he’s going anyway. He tells Earl to go out to the pay phone to call the reverend to see if he can make it down here. Earl protests that he is supposed to be guarding Malcolm, but Malcolm insists.

Someone does introduce Malcolm to the audience. And just like at the airport, a black man shouts for someone to get their hands out of his pocket. Someone sets off a smoke bomb. Another man runs up to the podium and shoots a shotgun once, twice into Malcolm. Then two men riddle Malcolm’s body with bullets from pistols. There is pandemonium in the hall. One of the assassins is wounded.

Betty rushes up onto the stage, saying they killed her husband. The wounded assassin is grabbed and beaten by the crowd. Police officers save the man. Betty cries over her husband. Close to 20 police officers come in to the ballroom. Malcolm is put on a gurney and rushed to the hospital.

Malcolm X is no more, says a spokesperson. Martin Luther King, Jr. comments on the death of Malcolm X, saying it was a tragedy.

 

Very good movie.  Well done and with good acting.  Excellent biography of Malcolm X.  It follows his early career as a zoot-suiter and street hoodlum, to a fancy-Dan numbers runner, to a house burglar to, finally, a prisoner.   In prison he has a conversion to the Nation of Islam, which helps him get on the straight and narrow, but it turns him also into a black racist.  He works his way up the ladder to second in power to the leader of the Nation of Islam.  

The coming of the civil rights movement did not change him.  He still continued to preach about the white devils, thought Martin Luther King was a fool and said about Pres. Kennedy's assassination that at long last "the chickens have come home to roost."  

Of course, now in our politically-correct age, we are supposed to agree with the orthodox line that at the end of their careers, both MLK and Malcolm X approached each other in their views, as if we are supposed to dismiss the leaders' philosophies during his heyday and only now consider his last thoughts as the true word on the subject.  Malcolm spend a long time preaching black racism against whites.  And that certainly helped blacks turn away from King's peaceful strategies to the age of black power, which justified the coming white backlash.     

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 

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