AFI Movie Club: MALCOLM X – American Film Institute
Malcom X Film Still - Denzel Washington



MALCOLM X, Spike Lee’s powerful biopic, stars AFI Life Achievement honoree Denzel Washington as the eponymous Civil Rights crusader who fought for racial equality. An honorary degree recipient from the AFI Conservatory, Lee recently was featured in AFI’s Black Stories Matter series, while MALCOLM X cinematographer Ernest R. Dickerson took part in a Harold Lloyd Master Seminar.

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MALCOLM X – Reelgood

Watch Tiffany Boone announce today’s film:

Trivia about Today’s Film

DID YOU KNOW? Myriad writers sought to bring Malcolm X’s story to the screen before Spike Lee, including James Baldwin, Arnold Perl and David Mamet. Actors considered to star over the years included Billy Dee Williams, Eddie Murphy and Richard Pryor. Sidney Poitier and Norman Jewison were also attached to direct at various points.

DID YOU KNOW? Before portraying the Civil Rights icon onscreen, Denzel Washington played Malcolm X in the 1981 stage play “When the Chickens Come Home to Roost.” To prepare for the cinematic role, Washington read every book on the subject and listened to every speech Malcolm had made. He also refrained from eating pork, attended Fruit of Islam courses and became an expert in the Lindy Hop, just as the real Malcolm X did.

DID YOU KNOW? Arnold Perl directed a documentary also called MALCOLM X, which was nominated for a Best Documentary Oscar®. Producer Marvin Worth – who knew Malcolm X in real life – believed, with the success of the documentary, it would only be a few years before he could adapt it into a narrative feature. In fact, it took another two decades.

DID YOU KNOW? Spike Lee had wanted to use the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem to depict Malcolm X’s assassination onscreen, where the actual tragedy took place. However, the building was deemed unsafe due to asbestos, and the Diplomat Hotel in midtown Manhattan was used instead.

DID YOU KNOW? MALCOLM X marked the first time ever that a narrative, non-documentary film was granted permission to shoot in the holy city of Mecca.

DID YOU KNOW? The film was praised by Betty Shabazz – Malcolm X’s widow – who commended Spike Lee for capturing the essence of her late husband “quite well.” However, she remarked that her onscreen counterpart, played by Angela Bassett, was more assertive than she had been in real life.

DID YOU KNOW? The speech that plays over the documentary footage of Malcolm X’s life at the end was read by Ossie Davis, who also wrote and delivered the eulogy at the Civil Rights activist’s funeral service in 1965.

DID YOU KNOW? Denzel Washington received an Academy Award® nomination for Best Actor, and Ruth E. Carter was nominated for Best Costume Design. MALCOLM X was named one of the top 10 films of the year by the National Board of Review and received the following NAACP Image Awards: Outstanding Motion Picture; Outstanding Lead Actor (Denzel Washington); Outstanding Supporting Actor (Al Freeman, Jr.); and Outstanding Supporting Actress (Angela Bassett).

Learn more at the AFI Catalog.

The movie doesn’t end at the credits: Family-friendly Discussion Questions

Join the conversation on Twitter and Instagram now using #AFIMovieClub. Or post your responses in the comment section below.

-How was Malcolm X an inspiring activist? How was he also a polarizing public figure?

-How did Malcolm X’s views differ from Martin Luther King Jr.’s on how to achieve racial equality?

-What lengths did Spike Lee go to in order to make MALCOLM X as accurate and authentic as possible?

-What did the religion of Islam offer Malcolm when he was in jail? How did prison change him and help him evolve as a man and activist?

– What should the role of religion be in activist movements? How did religion help and/or hinder the causes of Malcolm X and King?

-What did you think about the cameo by Nelson Mandela in the film? What does this symbolize?

-How do you think Malcolm X would characterize the current political moment? How do you think he would have factored into the Resistance movement?

-How would you rate MALCOLM X?

Watch Jennifer Hudson perform “A Change is Gonna Come” from MALCOLM X at the AFI Life Achievement Award honoring Denzel Washington in this exclusive clip from the AFI Archive.

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