Filmmaker Spike Lee creates controversial films with subjects that excite him. Perhaps the subject he feels most passionately about is the historical civil rights leader Malcolm X. Lee’s biography of Malcolm X was several years in the making, and then released in 1992 with Denzel Washington playing the role of Malcolm X. Lee’s depiction of Malcolm X was “outstanding yet deeply flawed” (Marable, 1993, p. 7).
Lee proudly states he based his film on The Autobiography of Malcolm X, which is based on recorded speeches written by author Alex Haley. Many critics proclaim this shows the film as historically detached. It significantly portrays the spiritual change of Malcolm X. Spike Lee’s film also shows how Islam similarly converted other prostitutes and drug dealers during the time, “providing moral guidance and self-respect, and giving people denied opportunity a belief in themselves as capable and productive members of society” (Marable, 1993, p. 7). Although Malcolm may have gotten inspiration and direction from the Muslim gospel and Elijah Muhammad while in prison, the numerous conversion of thugs and criminals to the Nation of Islam in the mid-1940s is a “clean version of the Nation” (Reed, 1993, p. 18). The Nation of Islam was a commercial organization. Elijah Muhammad also engaged in secret meetings with the Ku Klux Klan, which would never be endorsed by their organization.
In addition, the film shows a close bond between Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm. However, historians have noted that even before Malcolm’s knowledge of Elijah’s extramarital affairs and several illegitimate children, he had been angered by the Nation’s refusal to actively participate in the civil rights movement (Carnes, 1995). He was, as early as 1960, broadening his political sphere, which included interaction with other black groups and increased involvement in foreign policy issues that the film never addresses (Carnes, 1995; Marable, 1993).
The film reveals... [continues]
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