Death of a Prophet: The Last Days of Malcolm X (1981)
Director: Woody King Jr.
Starring: Morgan Freeman (Malcolm X), Yolanda King (Betty Shabazz).
This film is about the last 24 hours in the life of Black Muslim religious and political leader Malcolm X. It investigates the reasons why he was assassinated and asks, among other questions, where were the police, who had him under surveillance?
Spoiler warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
The New York Hilton. Two black men get out of a car. They are wearing business suits. The men ask the hotel clerk if they have a guest by the names of Mr. Redeemer or Mr. Shabazz, etc. A black janitor is suspicious of the two black men and he tells them that "we" don’t give out that kind of information about their guests. The two black men are obviously angry at the interference of the janitor. The two men say maybe they arrived before their man. They tell the janitor that they hope to see him again.
Malcolm X finds it hard to sleep. Someone lights a Molotov cocktail and throws it into Malcolm’s house. The phone lines have been cut. The family has to race out of their home before everyone is consumed by the flames.
The two mysterious black men handle a revolver as they talk about "he" staying in the Waldorf Hotel. One of the men says that this only means a slight delay in their plans. They will put their alternated plan into effect. The driver, however, says the alternate plan is more risky. The other would-be assassin says to the driver: "We have been chosen, comrade. It is the will of God. A higher power has ordained this mission."
Malcolm X gets a phone call. A voice on the phone says: "I know it’s you, hypocrite. You are dead, hypocrite. You are dead, hypocrite. You are dead hypocrite." Malcolm hangs up the phone. The caller was one of the two assassins. They are in their hotel room talking about the assassination plans. A fellows says the two men, comrade 1 and comrade 2, will sit in the first row. The driver will sit four rows back, next to a man in a green vest. The man in the green vest will start a commotion. The two fellows down front will open up with their weapons and the driver will use the shot gun. The leader says that this hypocrite is trying to destroy their Muslim organization.
Malcolm X asks that the night porter be sent to his room. He watches a discussion between black leaders on the television. Malcolm practices his speech. He will talk about what is going on in Africa, in particular Angola, and in the United States with the African-Americans.
Brother Samuels, the janitor, comes up to Malcolm’s room. Malcolm tells him that people he loves are trying to blow him and his family off the face of the earth. Samuels says he is sure that the men from last night are those who want to bring harm to Malcolm. Malcolm says he’s not sure exactly who are trying to kill him. He says one of his men, his body guard, is a CIA man. And those two men from last night are just puppets of others. Malcolm tells Samuels that he is in danger and that he and his family should travel for awhile.
Samuels and Malcolm go out to have breakfast. The white waitress knows who Malcolm is and is nervous around him. After breakfast Malcolm tells Samuels to pick up his wife and children and meet him at the Audubon Ballroom around 1:30 p.m. Malcolm himself is going to go over to a book store ato pick up two books on the old black leader Marcus Garvey.
Malcolm drives himself over to the bookstore. He stops his car for awhile. He just sits in his car until he decides to continue to the book store. He makes another stop, this time to pick up a newspaper. He finally stops at the AfroAmerican Book Store. He lightly taps on the door and the old professor there tells him to come on in. He is glad to see Malcolm again and says he has the two books ready for him.
After the professor tells a little story about the past, Malcolm says: "You heard they want to kill me?" He adds: "Why do you think they want to kill me?" The professor says the white man is filled with jealousy and hate. He also says that the Audubon Ballroom has a jinx on it.
Malcolm goes to his office. Two FBI men want to speak with him. They say that some of Malcolm’s followers have tried to destroy landmarks like the Liberty Bell and the Statue of Liberty. Malcolm objects that the agents know damn well that he does not support or condone such attacks. Malcolm asks the agents if they know about the guys who are trying to kill him and asks them to do something about that. The agents says they believe those trying to destroy landmarks are the same people trying to kill Malcolm. One of the agents gives Malcolm a revolver. Malcolm suggests that they leave.
Malcolm next talks to men from Ghana and Saudi Arabia. They invite him to their countries, but he says he will stay here in the USA.
The assassins practice karate in a small gym. The teacher is very impressed by the men’s readiness.
Malcolm talks to his wife Betty on the phone. He tells her to go directly to the Ballroom and he will get there around 2 p.m. Malcolm talks to a young black man. The leader of the assassins gets really close to Malcolm. Malcolm notices the man and stares at him a bit.
Malcolm walks through a public square where men from Africa talk to a large black crowd. He walks to a street corner and a car stops to give him a ride to the Audubon Ballroom. The man and woman in the car are attending the speech.
A policeman gets a call that the police have been pulled from the rally in Harlem. The officer and another officer both agree that this is a mistake because Malcolm X is a marked man. They decide to station someone across the street from the Ballroom.
Malcolm talks with his wife at the ballroom. All the other speakers have canceled their talks. In private Betty talks about the threats against their lives. She asks: "Are you going to die? . . . I love you. I do believe, I will love you forever."
Malcolm prepares to give his talk. The assassins are in place and the FBI agents are there too. The designated man starts an incident yelling at the drive rto get his hands out of his pockets. As people try to quiet the row, one of the assassins in the front row, gets up and shoots Malcolm five times. The other assassin shoots Malcolm with his pistol a number of times. To create greater confusion he shoots over the head of the people in the audience. Betty rushes up to Malcolm’s side. One of the assassins rushes out of the Ballroom and runs right into two police officers with their guns drawn.
Betty wails: "They killed my husband. They killed my husband."
This is a very low budget film and a short film. Morgan Freeman does a good job as usual, but there’s not that much information about the assassins and Malcolm X in this story of the last days of Malcolm X. The screen play needed to be longer and of better quality, if this film was to be a good one. Nevertheless, it was interesting watching the build-up to the assassination of Malcolm X. (I just wish there was more information about the real story.)
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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