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A portrait of Malcolm X, one of the most prominent black leaders and human rights activist.
Malcolm X, a charismatic, articulate black Muslim leader who supports separatism and militancy, is shown addressing an urban audience, exhorting them to declare their rights to equality, respect and humanity "by any means necessary." Footage of contemporary African Americans on the street, in church and at demonstrations is intercut with other speeches by Malcolm, declaring that the white man has repressed and bullied blacks in America. Famous African Americans, including Olympic athlete Lee Evans, are shown as Malcolm pronounces his disinterest in integration, stating "I could not integrate with my enemy." Malcolm belongs to The Nation of Islam, a separatist organization of Muslim blacks based in the United States and led by Elijah Muhammad, who is viewed as a prophet dispensing wisdom directly from God. Muhammad teaches his followers that there is no justice in America for blacks. Later, Malcolm tells a television interviewer that in the Bible, the snake in the Genesis story is a symbol for the white man, evil by nature. Portions from The Autobiography of Malcolm X are read by James Earl Jones: Malcolm was born in 1925 to a West Indian mother and a militant minister father who was a follower of Marcus Garvey and preached separation from whites. He was murdered by the Lansing, Michigan Ku Klux Klan, after which Malcolm's mother had an emotional breakdown, and he and his seven brothers and sisters were sent to reform schools and foster homes. As footage filmed at Malcolm's University of Islam schools in Chicago and Detroit, which offers co-ed classes from kindergarten to high school, is shown, Jones reads Malcolm's anecdote about his own eighth-grade teacher, who told him he could not grow up to be a lawyer because he was a "nigger." Shots of contemporary black children are intercut with images of black children from the 1930s and '40s, as the University of Islam students state that the devil is the white man, who was grafted from the black man 6,000 years ago. Malcolm later preaches about being a good father and good husband, then other Muslims explain that the "X" in their names represents the unknown and nullifies their former "slave name." They are taught that all of the characters in the Old Testament were of color, as all came from Africa and Asia. Malcolm calls the traditional God "That old pale thing." Jones reads from the autobiography the description of Malcolm's youthful life of crime, during which he avoided the draft by pretending to be mentally unbalanced, then moved to Harlem and became involved in pimping, gambling and bootlegging liquor. In the present, he explains how the vicious cycle of poverty moves from poor schools to a poor education to poor jobs, trapping people in neighborhoods with poor schools. Boxer Muhammad Ali credits being Muslim with helping him to win the championship over Sonny Liston. While Malcolm denounces how American culture has taught blacks to hate themselves, clips from old films are presented, illustrating various stereotypical black characters played by actors such as Stepin Fetchit. Malcolm exhorts his followers to stop trying to appeal to whites and to disavow "the vices of the white man," including gambling, stealing and drugs. He admits that he was jailed at the age of twenty-one for his crimes, and describes how he became a Muslim in prison. Various scenes depict white policemen beating, arresting and abusing black citizens, including Ronald Stokes, a black man shot by Los Angeles police officers. Malcolm then addresses violence, stating that he cannot remain nonviolent against a brutal enemy. He advises his followers to fight, stating that since they were "born in jail," punishment cannot be a deterrent. After President John F. Kennedy is assassinated, Malcolm states publicly that it is a case of "chickens coming home to roost," and although he defends his words as meaning that the murder was a result of a climate of hatred, the Muslim leaders suspend him from public speaking for ninety days. Soon after, Malcolm splits from the Nation of Islam, announcing that he is still a Muslim but wants to be more politically active than the leadership would allow. He forms the Muslim Mosque organization in Harlem, then embarks on a pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. In words from his autobiography, he explains how his thinking was radically altered when he met white Muslims in the Middle East. Back in America, he begins to preach integration with whites who have the same aims as activist blacks. "We are truly the same," he states. He takes on the name El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, and begins addressing mixed-race crowds, planning to denounce the United States in the United Nations for its treatment of African Americans. Asked again about his endorsement of blacks buying rifles, he explains that because the government fails to protect them, they must protect themselves. Various militant black leaders such as John Carlos, Stokely Carmichael and Jesse Jackson address audiences, then Malcolm tells his followers that the situation in Vietnam has proven that America cannot defend against guerrilla warfare, thrilling them with the unfinished statement "Before you know it¿" Malcolm and his family begin to receive threats from Nation of Islam members, and Malcolm's brother Philbert X denounces him publicly, insinuating that he is mentally ill. Malcolm declares to the media that he broke from the Nation of Islam after learning that Elijah Muhammad fathered eight children by six different teenage girls, after which Malcolm's house is bombed while he and his wife and children are asleep. All escape unharmed, and while in the press Malcolm blames the Muslims, they accuse him of staging the blast for publicity. Malcolm continues to urge his followers to join together with the 700 million other Muslims in Africa. While other black leaders, such as Bayard Rustin and Martin Luther King, preach pacifism, Malcolm's following grows. On 14 Feb 1965, however, he is shot fifteen times during a speech to his Afro American Unity Organization at the Audubon Ballroom in New York City. Although Elijah Muhammad denies any connection to the assassination, founder of the Congress of Racial Equality James Farmer urges a federal inquiry into the killing. Malcolm's sister Ella Collins, her words echoed by blacks interviewed on the street, believes that "The American system killed him." At Malcolm's funeral, attended by 1,500 mourners, actor Ossie Davis states in the eulogy: "Malcolm was our¿living black manhood¿our black shining prince who didn't hesitate to die because he loved us so."
Cast & Crew
|MPAA Ratings:||PG||Premiere Info:||Los Angeles opening: 26 May 1972|
|Release Date:||1972||Production Date:||
A Warner Bros. presentation in association with Betty Shabazz
|Color/B&W:||Distributions Co:||Warner Bros., Inc.|
|Sound:||Production Co:||Marvin Worth Productions|
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