Spike Lee’s ‘Malcolm X’ has been considered one of the greatest biopics ever made, the film is extraordinary in its depiction of historical accuracy as well as the form of realism that spike lee cherished (Marcus, 2001). The quasi-documentary style of the movie shows the making of Malcolm X as an American. The present essay intends to evaluate the reliability of historical events presented in Malcolm X and to decide whether Malcolm X is reliable historical source in order to know about the life and events that led to his assassination in 1965.
“The Autobiography of Malcolm X,” that Lee used as primary source was written with Alex Haley based on journals, letters written by Malcolm X and newspapers. The movie is divided into three parts, the early days of his life in Boston and Harlem, the years he spent in jail where the changing phase occurred and the finally the years of his life as an activist, his relation Nation of Islam that resulted in his assassination on 21 February, 1965. As far as the depiction of Malcolm X’s family is concerned, especially his brothers and his half-sister Ella who funded his pilgrimage to Mecca, Lee replaced his brothers with fictional characters while removing altogether the character of Ella in movie. On the contrary, Lee is more seems daring to add moments of controversies like Malcolm X’s remark on the death of JFK as “chicken coming home to the roost”. The part of the reliability of Malcolm X comes from the use of original grainy footage in the movie. For instance, the image of the American flag burning in the Rodney King Incident, the daring speeches of Malcolm X that directly charge white American are depicted accurately and dramatically by Denzel Washington as they were made by the Malcolm X (Clark, 2015).
As mentioned above Lee’s selection of removing the siblings from the as well as making some changes in the prison scenes do suggest unreliability if we are to consider Malcolm X as a historical source because according some historians it was not Baines who inspired him to convert to Nation of Islam but his siblings half-sister Ella, Philbert, and Reginald. Also that his real-life prison buddy was not Baines but Bimbi who according to historians introduces him to literature rather than religion (Clark, (2015). In fact, it was his brother who introduced him to NOI and even after he left NOI, his brother remained the member of NOI. The movie also removes the character of Muhammad Ali who was a friend of Malcolm X (Rule, 1992). According to Lee, the primary concern was to highpoint the transformation of the many Malcolms because by merging these different phases one can approach Malcolm X. he also points out the inherent instabilities of regarding the representation of Malcolm X by referring to the different varieties of Malcolm X depending on their personal view. Spike Lee also claims his independent research regarding Malcolm X, apart from the primary source mention above. According to him Paul Lee is a perceptive scholar on the life of Malcolm x and he worked as technical advisor on the film (Rule, 1992). The depiction of his death is accurately depicted according to the reports provided by FBI. (Malcolm X: The Assassination., 1994)
As we have seen so far that despite of its removal of many characters and some events Spike Lee’s Malcolm X never cease to amaze the audience, many well-known critics of the time including Roger Ebert gave it the maximum due to its use of historical events in an artistic form to give one the sense documentary (Ebert, 1992). Some events that the movie depicted are accurate and powerful like Malcolm X. Hence, the movie is an accurate depiction of the events to great extent.
Clark, A. (2015). Malcolm X: Spike Lee’s biopic is still absolutely necessary. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/feb/19/malcolm-x-spike-lee-biopic-black-cinema-selma-the-butler [Accessed 11 Apr. 2018].
Ebert, R. (1992). Malcolm X Movie Review & Film Summary (1992) | Roger Ebert. [online] Rogerebert.com. Available at: https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/malcolm-x-1992 [Accessed 11 Apr. 2018].
King, D., 2003. Americans in the Dark?—Recent Hollywood Representations of the Nation’s History. Government and Opposition, 38(2), pp.163-180.
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Rule, S. (1992). FILM; Malcolm X: The Facts, the Fictions, the Film. [online] Nytimes.com. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/1992/11/15/movies/film-malcolm-x-the-facts-the-fictions-the-film.html [Accessed 11 Apr. 2018].
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X, M., & HALEY, A. (1973). The autobiography of Malcolm X.