Director Spike Lee based his 1992 movie, Malcolm X starring Denzel Washington, on the 1965 book, The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley. Most significant events and experiences in the seventeen chapters of the book were covered in the movie with both focusing on the many transformations of Malcolm. However, Lee used artistic license to rearrange the chronology and the interplay of various characters, even going so far as to assign words in the book to different characters in the movie which is obviously based on the book. Early events such as his father's murder, his mother's institutionalization, the white teacher telling him that he couldn't become "...a lawyer, that's no realistic goal for a nigger.", and the burning of his house by the KKK were told or shown with great accuracy, but even the later events that were altered for the movie contributed to the cinema genre without changing the spirit of the message of the book. Book Passages vs. Film Scenes
One example of Lee's significantly altering a passage from the book yet maintaining its meaning is his interpretation of Malcolm's feelings toward his mother. In the book Malcolm said, "I have rarely talked to anyone about my mother, for I believe that I am capable of killing a person, without hesitation, who happened to make the wrong kind of remark about my mother." This passage in the book was expressed by Lee in a Harlem bar scene. When Malcolm bumped into a man in a bar and got called 'boy' and a 'country nigger,' he remained unresponsive. But when the man said "What you gonna do, go home to your Momma?" Malcolm hit him over the head with a liquor bottle and angrily said, "Nigger, don't you EVER in your life say anything against my mother!" They are very different versions of Malcolm's devotion to his mother, yet the same message was conveyed. •
A significant event in Malcolm's life was his first hair conk. It was an important issue with Malcolm then, and Lee selected it as a sufficiently important issue to start his movie. The book reads: "This was my first really big step toward self-deprecation: when I endured all of that pain, literally burning my flesh to have it look like a white man's hair. I had joined that multitude of Negro men and women in America who are brainwashed into believing that the black people are "inferior"--and white people are "superior" --they will even violate and mutilate their God-created bodies to try to look "pretty" by white standards." Lee addressed that issue in the first scene of the movie with dialogue ending with Washington's lines, "Looks white, don't it." In a later scene Malcolm's hair-conking process resulted in his sticking his burning head in the toilet because of malfunctioning plumbing and ended with the police bursting in to arrest him. In the book there was no connection between hair conking and his arrest, but Lee connected this end to the process of hair-straightening, an important part of black pride adopted later in his life, and combined it with a major turning point in his life, his arrest and subsequent prison term. •
Malcolm’s encounter with the white girl
In the book, when “this little white college girl ...demanded, right up in my face, “Don't you believe there are any good white people?" Malcolm said, “I didn't want to hurt her feelings. I told her, “People's deeds I believe in, Miss--not their words." “What can I do?” she exclaimed. I told her, “Nothing." In the movie the girl's lines were, "Excuse me, Mr. X, I've read some of your speeches and I honestly believe that a lot of what you have to say is true. I'm a good person in spite of what my ancestors did. And I wanted to ask you, what can a white person like myself, who isn't prejudiced, what can I do to help you and further the cause?" And Malcolm answered, “Nothing." Malcolm was less interested in protecting the girl's feelings in Lee's version. In both the book and the movie, "She burst out crying and...
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