Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Steele: 'How to Get Away w/ Murder' & 'Black-ish' - the Good & the Bad Steele: 'How to Get Away w/ Murder' & 'Black-ish' - the Good & the Bad "Randy, Red Superfreak and Julia" - 'Scandal' Season 4 Premiere Recap "Randy, Red Superfreak and Julia" - 'Scandal' Season 4 Premiere Recap 'How to Get Away with Murder' Episode 1 Recap + Your Thoughts... 'How to Get Away with Murder' Episode 1 Recap + Your Thoughts... Read What YOU Thought About 'Black-ish' After Last Night's Premiere... Read What YOU Thought About 'Black-ish' After Last Night's Premiere... Storm Would Have to be Recast for Future 'X-Men' Movies. Who Would You Like to See Play Her? Storm Would Have to be Recast for Future 'X-Men' Movies. Who Would You Like to See Play Her? 5 Netflix Streaming Titles You May Not Know Are Available & May Want to Check Out (9/23/14) 5 Netflix Streaming Titles You May Not Know Are Available & May Want to Check Out (9/23/14) Awkward Black Girl's Next Misadventure: Her Own Studio Awkward Black Girl's Next Misadventure: Her Own Studio 101-Year-Old Film Footage Found in Museum's Collection Is Earliest-Known Feature Made w/ Black Actors. First Public Screening in Nov. 101-Year-Old Film Footage Found in Museum's Collection Is Earliest-Known Feature Made w/ Black Actors. First Public Screening in Nov. Once Supporters Now Critical of Actress Daniele Watts, as Civil Rights Activists Call on Actress to Apologize Once Supporters Now Critical of Actress Daniele Watts, as Civil Rights Activists Call on Actress to Apologize Watch First Episode of ABC's New Series 'Black-ish' Now Watch First Episode of ABC's New Series 'Black-ish' Now 'Terror at the Mall,' Documentary on Siege of Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, Coming to HBO (Trailer) 'Terror at the Mall,' Documentary on Siege of Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, Coming to HBO (Trailer) Thankfully, 'The Equalizer' Gets an "R" Rating From the MPAA (No Surprise Here) Thankfully, 'The Equalizer' Gets an "R" Rating From the MPAA (No Surprise Here) Early Reviews Say 'How To Get Away With Murder' is Very Much in the Style of 'Scandal.' Good Thing or Not? Early Reviews Say 'How To Get Away With Murder' is Very Much in the Style of 'Scandal.' Good Thing or Not? Aaron McGruder Finally Explains Why He Left 'The Boondocks' Aaron McGruder Finally Explains Why He Left 'The Boondocks' Lifetime Launches New Series Set In Elite World Of Hip-Hop Majorette Competitions (Watch Preview) Lifetime Launches New Series Set In Elite World Of Hip-Hop Majorette Competitions (Watch Preview) ABC Is Making Changes To The Next-Day Online Availability Of Its Series ABC Is Making Changes To The Next-Day Online Availability Of Its Series Netflix Explains Why It Doesn't Always Have That Film Or TV Show You Really Want To See (Video) Netflix Explains Why It Doesn't Always Have That Film Or TV Show You Really Want To See (Video) Tichina Arnold Says She Talked To Martin Lawrence About Doing A 'Martin' Movie... Tichina Arnold Says She Talked To Martin Lawrence About Doing A 'Martin' Movie... Denzel Washington Reveals Daughter Is In 'Django Unchained' + Roles He Regrets Rejecting Denzel Washington Reveals Daughter Is In 'Django Unchained' + Roles He Regrets Rejecting Exclusive: Omari Hardwick Raw (Career Evolution, Transition, Testimony Of Faith In Hollywood, 'Kick-Ass 2,' More) Exclusive: Omari Hardwick Raw (Career Evolution, Transition, Testimony Of Faith In Hollywood, 'Kick-Ass 2,' More)

'Malcolm X' Revisited

Shadow and Act By Nijla Mumin | Shadow and Act March 11, 2013 at 1:54PM

There's a scene in Spike Lee's "Malcolm X" (1992) where the title character recalls his mother being harassed by the Ku Klux Klan in Nebraska while pregnant with him. They shatter her windows with rifles as she frantically pleads to be left alone with her children. A white band of KKK members cover the skyline, riding off into the moon. One of the most visually striking scenes in the film, it immediately sets the context into which Malcolm was born, one that he'd spend his life combating.
15
'Malcolm X'
Warner Bros. 'Malcolm X'

There's a scene in Spike Lee's "Malcolm X" (1992) where the title character recalls his mother being harassed by the Ku Klux Klan in Nebraska while pregnant with him. They shatter her windows with rifles as she frantically pleads to be left alone with her children. A white band of KKK members cover the skyline, riding off into the moon. One of the most visually striking scenes in the film, it immediately sets the context into which Malcolm was born, one that he'd spend his life combating.

The film, based on "The Autobiography of Malcolm X" by Alex Haley and Malcolm X, with a script written by Spike Lee and Arnold Perl, faced similar turbulence because of its subject matter. Lee was unable to obtain proper studio funding for the project, resorting to a widespread fundraising campaign targeting well-known Black celebrities and philanthropists, eventually releasing a book detailing the struggle. But what made the film much more than a dramatic documentation about a popular figure were its performances. Denzel Washington, then a rising actor after turns in "Glory" and "Mo' Better Blues," approached the role with a fierce eye for mastery. Even as new information about Malcolm's life has been unveiled over the years, Washington's portrayal of the man still resonates with a certain truth. His ability to deliver Malcolm's diction, his body language, his confident, assured demeanor when swarmed by reporters, or when addressing a massive group of followers in a protest, all comes through.

Malcolm X 2

Lee also does an amazing job of capturing the different worlds that Malcolm inhabited throughout his life, making them part of a stunning continuum of experiences. One scene recalls his time as a popular lindy-hop dancer in Boston. Bodies flip, slide, and dip between each other in colorful zoot suits and dresses, while a band plays a roaring set. There, Malcolm comes alive with love interest Laura (Theresa Randle) in one of the most well-choreographed dance scenes in film. By the end of it, the audience has experienced this movement, and continues on the journey with Malcolm.

Lee couples these more joyous scenes with ones of intense pain, and a certain recognition of an eventual doom. We are present with Malcolm as he crawls around the floor of a jail cell, when he addresses the small gathering of Muslims as a new minister, and even when he bears the pain of his first "conk." Malcolm is at his best and at his worst in this film. Washington plays him as a person, and not as a "hero" or a "figure."

In recent conversations about upcoming biopics, including who will be cast, and who will direct, a closer look at this film could provide insight into capturing the life and work of popular figures. Beyond the physical likeness that is at times important, there's a commitment that an actor must make to studying and entering into the mind and world of the person they're portraying.

Malcolm X 3

Denzel Washington did this, setting into motion a trajectory that has cemented him as one of the world's most talented performers. There's a way that the "figure" must be dramatized, not as a saint, but as a human being, and a world that must be created by the director, that the audience readily enters. In all of these aspects, "Malcolm X" succeeded and stands as one of the great biopics, and films, in current cinema.

Other than “Malcolm X,” what are some of the best (and worst) casting decisions made for a Black biopic?

XFINITY On Demand™ is currently featuring "Malcolm X." Learn more, and join the celebration of Black entertainment at xfinity.com/celebrateblacktv.

Editor’s Note: Shadow and Act partnered with XFINITY to celebrate Black entertainment. Be sure to visit xfinity.com/celebrateblacktv, a unique digital community built around the love of Black entertainment. Shadow and Act hopes to enrich this community and provide a launching pad for insightful discussion. Look to Shadow and Act for features and content examining and exploring key themes and topics that run throughout the history of Black entertainment.

This article is related to: Xfinity Celebrate Black TV, Malcolm X, Denzel Washington, Spike Lee


Shadow & ActNewsletter