Mount St. Joseph University

Film Review: “Malcolm X” - The Convenience of the Time

Dateline: student newspaper

By: Michael Mullin

File Under: dateline

“We didn't see any democracy. We didn't see any democracy on the streets of Harlem or on the streets of Brooklyn or on the streets of Detroit or Chicago. Ain't no democracy down there. No, we've never seen democracy! All we've seen is hypocrisy! We don't see any American Dream. We've experienced only the American Nightmare!” - Malcolm X

Normally when I write reviews for Dateline, I try to use films that are brand new to the public, films that maybe others haven't seen yet in the theaters. I usually go into this hoping that maybe someone out there might decide to spend that extra $7 and head on down to the local theater. Today I'm going to take a different approach: I'm going to talk about a film that's been out since 1992. This is the first film review I’ve written for Dateline where the film exceeds my own age, which is not an abnormal thing considering how young I actually am, but I guarantee most of you haven't had the pleasure to sit down for a solid three hours and enjoy Spike Lee’s masterful rendition of the biography of one of most recognized civil rights leaders of our time, Malcolm X.

When I was 5 years old, I was sitting over at my grandparent's house on the south side of Indianapolis sneaking into the cover below the television set trying to find something good to watch. Like any normal five-year-old, I decided to pick the most appropriate and relevant film in the cupboard, Malcolm X. To say the least, I can firmly state that I must have been really bored that day as a five-year-old. I pulled out a double cassette covered in the color black, only with one image on the front, an X. There were two tapes inside the sleeve and naturally I pulled the first one out and popped it into the VCR. (Wow, I haven’t used that acronym for a while. Almost feels as weird as saying the words dial-up.)

Without really understanding what was happening, I began to see the film unravel with the scene of two young black men walking down the street looking very dapper with feathered hats as they were hitting on young women and looking extremely cool for the times. If you ever get a chance to watch the film Malcolm X, you'll realize that from the very first scene you expect the film to go a certain way, and then, of course, it doesn't. Like many good biographies, the entire story is told through the voice of its main character. Of course, we as the viewers know better and realize we are hearing the voice of academy award winning actor Denzel Washington. After witnessing his style, I was immediately hooked.

Malcolm X (whose original name was Malcolm Little) started his life as a small-time gangster and Harlem. As a young boy, he was told that he was the smartest boy in the class but unfortunately could not go on and become the great things that he wanted to pursue. All because of his color and race. His father was murdered by the Black Legion when he was very young, and his mother was left with the task of raisin her seven children alone. A man dating who was dating his mother left her after she was found to be pregnant and she was committed to a psych ward for nearly 24 years. Malcolm was giving up on child custody and lived in many homes throughout his young life.

He acted certifiably insane when he was drafted for World War II and decided to move to Harlem, where he engaged in drug dealing, gambling, racketeering, robbery, and pimping. He befriended John Elroy Sanford, a fellow dishwasher at Jimmy's Chicken Shack in Harlem, who aspired to be a professional comedian. Both men had reddish hair, so Sanford was called "Chicago Red" after his hometown and Little was known as "Detroit Red." (Years later, Sanford became famous as Redd Foxx.) Malcolm eventually moved back to Boston after he got out of the draft and found four accomplices to help him rob homes in the local area where wealthy white individuals lived.  They were caught by the police but were not convicted of robbery but for sleeping with the women who were their accomplices, mainly because they were white. The original charges were for larceny and breaking and entering. Unfortunately, Malcolm had to serve an 8 to 10-year sentence in prison, oh, and that's where I’ll leave you.

Part of the reason I decided to write about this film is that it's convenient for the times that we are living in right now. There are many activists that are springing out of nowhere that will one day become legends and become leaders in our society that others will look up to. There are many connections to our society right now that I made while watching this film recently. Malcolm X was a radical figure in our history who eventually came around as a pivotal civil rights leader at a critical time in our nation. If you have a chance to see this film whether you find it on the Internet or go rent it at a store, I think you will enjoy it very much. It's one of the best biofilms I've ever seen. It's one of my favorites so I hope you enjoy.