Recently, this column reviewed "Milk," which tells the story of slain civil rights leader Harvey Milk. In 1992, "Malcolm X" was released. Although many aspects of their profile were different, both Harvey Milk and Malcolm X were activists for causes unpopular in their time, and they were killed because their political positions antagonized opponents.
"Malcolm X" begins in the 1940s, when Malcolm "Detroit Red" Little (played by Denzel Washington) was a young, brash thug, always seeking the easy way out. He supports his zoot suit lifestyle with relatively petty criminal activity. He is apprehended and sentenced to prison. While in prison, he met Baines (played by Albert Hall), a member of the newly formed Nation of Islam. Malcolm's life is changed as he learns more about the Nation of Islam. He became a member, and when he was released, he quickly became a leader and spokesperson. Because of his charisma and eloquence, Malcolm became its most visible proponent. He changed his name to Malcolm X because Little was a name slave owners gave to his ancestors.
"Malcolm X" was directed by Spike Lee. He does a great job recreating the 1940s through the 1960s. The music, clothes, and cars are all very authentic.
Denzel Washington is flawless in the lead role. His transformation from naïve criminal to powerful leader is exciting to watch. Another strong performance is by Angela Bassett, who plays Betty, his wife.
"Malcolm X" is one of Spike Lee's best films.