Cast & Crew
James Earl Jones
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."
James Earl Jones
Rev. Martin Luther King
Chief Detective Walsh
Police Inspector Taylor
Rev. Jesse Jackson
Minister [louis] Farrakhan
L. [lee] Evans
L. [lawrence] James
R. [ronald] Freeman
Mayor Kenneth Gibson
Stewart Leroy Elliott
Arthur Herzog Jr.
Emily P. Kaplin
Nancy Reals Perl
Francis J. Scheid
Ernest R. Smith
Ossie Davis (1917-2005)
He was born Raiford Chatman Davis on December 18, 1917 in Cogdell, Georgia. His parents called him "R.C." When his mother registered his birth, the county clerk misunderstood her and thought she said "Ossie" instead of "R.C.," and the name stuck. He graduated high school in 1936 and was offered two scholarships: one to Savannah State College in Georgia and the other to the famed Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, but he could not afford the tuition and turned them down. He eventually saved enough money to hitchhike to Washington, D.C., where he lived with relatives while attending Howard University and studied drama.
As much as he enjoyed studying dramatics, Davis had a hunger to practice the trade professionally and in 1939, he left Howard University and headed to Harlem to work in the Rose McClendon Players, a highly respected, all-black theater ensemble in its day.
Davis' good looks and deep voice were impressive from the beginning, and he quickly joined the company and remained for three years. With the onset of World War II, Davis spent nearly four years in service, mainly as a surgical technician in an all-black Army hospital in Liberia, serving both wounded troops and local inhabitants before being transferred to Special Services to write and produce stage shows for the troops.
Back in New York in 1946, Davis debuted on Broadway in Jeb, a play about a returning black soldier who runs afoul of the Ku Klux Klan in the deep south. His co-star was Ruby Dee, an attractive leading lady who was one of the leading lights of black theater and film. Their initial romance soon developed into a lasting bond, and the two were married on December 9, 1948.
With Hollywood making much more socially conscious, adult films, particularly those that tackled themes of race (Lonely Are The Brave, Pinky, Lost Boundaries all 1949), it wasn't long before Hollywood came calling for Davis. His first film, with which he co-starred with his wife Dee, was a tense Joseph L. Mankiewicz's prison drama with strong racial overtones No Way Out (1950). He followed that up with a role as a cab driver in Henry Hathaway's Fourteen Hours (1951). Yet for the most part, Davis and Dee were primarily stage actors, and made few film appearances throughout the decade.
However, in should be noted that much of Davis time in the '50s was spent in social causes. Among them, a vocal protest against the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, and an alignment with singer and black activist Paul Robeson. Davis remained loyal to Robeson even after he was denounced by other black political, sports and show business figures for his openly communist and pro-Soviet sympathies. Such affiliation led them to suspicions in the anti-Communist witch hunts of the early '50s, but Davis, nor his wife Dee, were never openly accused of any wrongdoing.
If there was ever a decade that Ossie Davis was destined for greatness, it was undoubtly the '60s. He began with a hit Broadway show, A Raisin in the Sun in 1960, and followed that up a year later with his debut as a playwright - the satire, Purlie Victorious. In it, Davis starred as Purlie, a roustabout preacher who returns to southern Georgia with a plan to buy his former master's plantation barn and turn it into a racially integrated church.
Although not an initial success, the play would be adapted into a Tony-award winning musical, Purlie years later. Yet just as important as his stage success, was the fact that Davis' film roles became much more rich and varied: a liberal priest in John Huston's The Cardinal (1963); an unflinching tough performance as a black soldier who won't break against a sadistic sergeant's racial taunts in Sidney Lumet's searing war drama The Hill (1965); and a shrewd, evil butler who turns the tables on his employer in Rod Serling's Night Gallery (1969).
In 1970, he tried his hand at film directing, and scored a hit with Cotton Comes to Harlem (1970), a sharp urban action comedy with Godfrey Cambridge and Raymond St. Jacques as two black cops trying to stop a con artist from stealing Harlem's poor. It's generally considered the first major crossover film for the black market that was a hit with white audiences. Elsewhere, he found roles in some popular television mini-series such as King, and Roots: The Next Generation (both 1978), but for the most part, was committed to the theater.
Happily, along came Spike Lee, who revived his film career when he cast him in School Daze (1988). Davis followed that up with two more Lee films: Do the Right Thing (1989), and Jungle Fever (1991), which also co-starred his wife Dee. From there, Davis found himself in demand for senior character parts in many films throughtout the '90s: Grumpy Old Men (1993), The Client (1994), I'm Not Rappaport (1996), and HBO's remake of 12 Angry Men (1997).
Davis and Dee celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 1998 with the publication of a dual autobiography, In This Life Together, and in 2004, they were among the artists selected to receive the Kennedy Center Honors. Davis had been in Miami filming an independent movie called Retirement with co-stars George Segal, Rip Torn and Peter Falk.
In addition to his widow Dee, Davis is survived by three children, Nora Day, Hasna Muhammad and Guy Davis; and seven grandchildren.
by Michael T. Toole
Ossie Davis (1917-2005)
The opening credits include the following written statements: "We wish to thank [Malcolm X's wife] Betty Shabazz for granting us the rights and for her invaluable technical assistance" and "Substantial portions of the biographical sections of this film relating to the early part of Malcolm X's life were obtained from stock film and newsreel sources due to the non-existence of actual film depicting these events in his life." Rev. Jesse Jackson's name is misspelled "Jessie" in the opening credits.
The film mixes black-and-white footage of the speeches and interviews of Malcolm X (1925-1965), newsreel footage of historical events and interviews with other civic and political leaders, with newly created scenes, shot in color, of urban streets. Numerous public figures are glimpsed in the archival footage but not credited onscreen, including Fidel Castro, Stepin Fetchit, Jacqueline Kennedy, U Thant, Ralph Bunche, Rev. Galamison, Clayton Powell and Louis Lomax.
Malcolm X begins with a black screen over which is heard Billie Holiday singing "Strange Fruit," which deals with the lynching of a black man. After this, Malcolm X is shown reciting a famous speech that states, in part: "We declare our right on this earth to be a man, to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being, in this society, on this earth, in this day-which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary." Parts of the statement are repeated in voice-over several times throughout the film. The final image is a repeat of the first scene, with Malcolm X reciting the entire statement again. After the first speech, The Last Poets are heard performing their poem/song "Niggers Are Scared of Revolution" over a collage of images of contemporary urban blacks. The Last Poets were a group of African-American poets and musicians, formed in 1968 during the height of the Civil Rights movement, who are often considered to be the progenitors of hip-hop music.
Throughout the film, portions of The Autobiography of Malcolm X are read by James Earl Jones in voice-over narration. The book was written by Alex Haley based on in-depth interviews with Malcolm X conducted over many years, and each chapter was edited and approved by Malcolm X. Prior to the book's publication, on September 12, 1964, Saturday Evening Post ran an article based on the interviews, entitled "I'm Talking to You, White Man: An Autobiography of Malcolm X." As represented in the film, the book covered the activist's life from birth through the pilgrimage to Mecca that began to change his teachings. After Malcolm X's assassination, Haley added an epilogue to the book, which was published in 1965.
The book follows closely the events of Malcolm X's life. He was born in Omaha, NE in 1925, the son of Earl Little, a Baptist minister who supported Black Nationalist leader Marcus Garvey. After Little was killed by white supremacists, Malcolm's mother had a mental breakdown and Malcolm was sent to a detention home, soon moving to Harlem to work as a thief, drug dealer and numbers runner. He was arrested in 1946 and, during his seven years in prison, learned about the Nation of Islam (NOI) and converted to the Muslim religion. Adopting the surname X, abandoning what he considered the slave name of Little, he soon rose to the position of minister and national spokesman for the NOI.
Malcolm X's intelligence and charisma soon gained him international attention, while his separatist and borderline incendiary speech in favor of black militancy made him a controversial figure. In addition to the intense media interest he engendered, he was also a target of Federal Bureau of Investigation surveillance. As shown in the film, when he made remarks about President John F. Kennedy's death that many considered insensitive, the leaders of the NOI suspended him. Malcolm X then learned that the religion's head, Elijah Muhammad, had several children out of wedlock, information that spurred him to break formally from the organization in 1964.
Later that year, Malcolm X made a religious pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, and during that trip, as recounted in his autobiography and in the film, met white Muslims who inspired him to reconsider his separatist philosophy. Back in America, he urged his followers to work with any group that shared the goals of racial equality and Muslim ethics. After several death threats, including the burning of his home on February 14, 1965, Malcolm X was assassinated on February 21, 1965 during a speech at New York City's Audubon Ballroom. The murderers were later found to be Talmadge Hayer, Norman 3X Butler and Thomas 15X Johnson, all NOI members.
In April 1966, Hollywood Reporter reported that Elia Kazan had bought the rights to the autobiography and planned for James Earl Jones to star and Ossie Davis to write the adaptation. Marvin Worth was named by an October 1967 Daily Variety new item as the current owner of the rights to the film version of the book, with Sidney Poitier and James Baldwin mentioned as possible actors. Then, in November 1967, Daily Variety noted that CBS Theatrical Films planned to produce a film version, with Stuart Rosenberg set to direct. In response, Twentieth Century-Fox announced in a November 14, 1967 Daily Variety article that it owned a "story property" about Malcolm X's life and would immediately begin production. In that article, CBS Theatrical Films president Gordon Stulberg stated that the report of his company's interest in the property was false.
Reports of a fictionalized version of Malcolm X's life surfaced again the following year. In June 1968, Daily Variety reported that Sammy Davis, Jr. was considering involvement in a Columbia Pictures film about Malcolm X. Worth's documentary production was announced in September 1968 in Daily Variety, with Columbia still listed as the studio. That article, which named Rosenberg as the director, listed Baldwin as a collaborator on the script, but only Arnold Perl is listed in the onscreen writing credits. Although some sources list Perl as the film's director, no director is credited onscreen. Malcolm X marked Perl's final film before his death in December 1971. Malcolm X's wife Betty Shabazz stated in a June 1972 Hollywood Reporter article that she was hired as a consultant after the film was completed.
Although the Los Angeles Times reviewer criticized the film for failing to make clear that Malcolm X's assassins were later found to be Muslims, most reviewers felt the filmmakers presented an even-handed, unbiased treatment of its controversial subject. On May 23, 1972, Hollywood Reporter announced that Warner Bros. planned to contribute ten percent of the film's net profits to Malcolm X College in Chicago, IL. In addition, the June 1972 Hollywood Reporter article noted that the studio was "letting the film be used as a fund raiser for various community organizations."
Malcolm X was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. It was re-released by Kit Parker Films in 1993. Several documentaries about Malcolm X have been produced, including a 1992 CBS news hour-long special called The Real Malcolm X. In 1992 Spike Lee directed a biographical film entitled Malcolm X, which was produced by Worth and starred Denzel Washington, who received an Academy Award nomination for his portrayal.
Nominated for the 1972 Academy Award for Best Documentary.
Expanded re-release in United States February 1993
Released in United States Spring May 1972
Re-released in United States January 20, 1993
Based on "The Autobiography of Malcolm X" written by Malcolm X with Alex Haley (New York, 1965).
b&w sequences; c Technicolor
rtg MPAA PG
Re-released in United States January 20, 1993 (New York City)
Expanded re-release in United States February 1993
Released in United States Spring May 1972