Malcolm X – Social Movement Film Review

Review of a Dramatic Film That Focuses on a Movement or Social Justice Cause

Write a 1000-1500 word review of a dramatic film (i.e. not a documentary) that focuses on a movement or social justice cause. You can choose from list below OR approach the instructor with an alternative suggestion, which must be approved by me at least a week before the deadline.

In your review, you will do the following:

  • SUMMARIZE. Provide a succinct (up to 500 word) summary of the plot. Focus on the collective action depicted in the film.
  • ANALYZE. Provide a critical analysis of how the film represents the movement.

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First, do some background on the film: who is the director? What is their political background? Which studio produced the film (major or indie)? This will give you some clues regarding how the movement is represented. Cite any secondary sources and list them in appended bibliography. Use this information as the basis from which to critically examine the film’s portrayal of the movement. Use concrete examples (e.g. brief scene descriptions, quotations) to support your answer.

Malcolm X – Social Movement Film Review

Plot Summary

“Malcolm X” is a film about an African-American civil rights leader which reflects the life of the historical Malcolm X.  The film starts by exploring the early life of Malcolm X by highlighting his childhood his parents, and society. It commences with a reflective speech narrated by Malcolm X (Denzel Washington) highlighting oppression of blacks by the white. He singles out acts perpetrated by the whites resulting in suffering and death among the blacks. The film then takes a flashback sequence in which Malcolm X narrates about his childhood experience and exposure. He describes that he grew up in a poor rural background and remembers how their house was invaded by a group of riders to search for his father who was an activist. He also narrates how at the age of five his family’s house was burnt down, and his father murdered.

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The film also has a flashback which reflects the love life of Malcolm X. He meets his first girlfriend in 1944 at Jitterbug Club before meeting Sophia, a white blond woman, who accepts and loves him. However, Malcolm X is still not convinced and treats her with racial chauvinism by forcing her to serve him breakfast. Notably, this part presents a conflicting interest pioneered by racial inequality (Robert, 1992). The next scene highlights the life of Malcolm X during young adulthood. He narrates how he met a nice with considerable influence by the name Archie. He later agrees to work for him. His life is marked with challenges. He is sentenced to imprisonment on concurrent terms. Notably, he makes a grand return to Harlem and begins his life as a preacher for the Islam community. He gains a massive influence and later foundational limelight through his preaching works. Subsequently, he gains enormous influence by advocating for the rights of the blacks. At one scene, he is pictured challenging the Harlem Division of the New York Police Department when the police harassed one of his close ally, Brother Johnson in the streets and taken to jail. Malcolm X later gets married in 1958 to his wife, Nurse Betty Sanders.  As a result, these scenes reflect the youthful age of Malcolm X.

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The climax of the film is evident when Malcolm X organized a public meeting to air out his grievances and advocate for equal rights and opportunities for the African-American population. Although he receives various death threats, he is adamant of pursuing his mission. However, he takes caution by fleeing his family to spend the night in one of the hotels in New York ahead of the planned meeting. On the day of the meeting, tensions are high in the streets with a large number of people, but Malcolm X urges his bodyguards to keep calm and stop conducting searches to avoid anxiety. Malcolm X later starts his speech which is interrupted by the commotions at the back. This is used as the best opportunity by the assassins to lash gunshots at him on the shoulder (Robert, 1992). Malcolm X falls on the ground and dies on his way to the hospital. The event marks the end of the film, with the weary statement of Martin Luther King on Malcolm’s death and the circumstances that elicited it.

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Critical Analysis of the Film

The film has an affiliated political background, expounding more on the conflicts between the black and the white race. According to Freeland and Wartenberg (2016), Malcolm X is one of the great screen biographies that explores the life of one iconic American leader and his struggles for the liberation of the oppressed and marginalized. The film was directed by Spike Lee and was officially released in 1992 (Freeland & Wartenberg 2016).  Denzel Washington stars as Malcolm X alongside other actors like Angela Basset as Betty X and Spike Lee as Shorty, among many others (Robert, 1992). The film explores how people can use the power to influence the lives of others (Malcolm, X. 2015). The film depicts a robust ideological orientation of the viewers by presenting Malcolm X as the vital protagonist and an active agent of change in championing for the civil rights

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Malcolm X, the protagonist in the film, is portrayed as an agent of change who wishes to change the dogma of stereotypic reasoning brought by racial difference (Freeland & Wartenberg, 2016).  His mission can be attributed to a troubled childhood in which he underwent several challenges such as brutality from the whites and murder of his father before they were chased from their home. The conflict in the film is between the whites and the blacks due to racial discrimination in society. More so, black people are arrested and harassed by the police and later sentenced to jail terms without proper hearing (Santoro, 2015). Notably, Malcolm X feels that there is no equal opportunity granted to African-Americans in terms of employment. He confesses that he did get most of the opportunities despite being qualified. This coupled with his struggling childhood, led him to criminal activities leading to arrest and prosecution but later reformed after serving his jail term.

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In this film, the tactics of the civil rights movement are represented using a state of restlessness. It is also represented by constant agitation by the people through their leaders to improve their living conditions (Nimtz, 2016). The civil rights movement championed by Malcolm X is also marked with the increasingly advanced level of brutality and retaliatory meetings due to oppression by white people (Dierenfield, 2013). The film has highlighted the public address as a vital tactic among civil rights movements. It also reflects the level of organization among the civil rights leaders. Notably, their meetings are all-inclusive without discriminating any individuals. Malcolm X, at one scene, is seen warning the bodyguards to stop searching for those attending the meetings because he wanted them to be relaxed and listen to the speeches.

Communication has played an essential role in the film. It has helped in highlighting the plight of Malcolm X, his family, and the rest of the African-Americans. In his public addresses, Malcolm X uses clear and effective communication styles to highlight the plights of black people due to oppression and discrimination the whites (Santoro, 2015). Communication is also displayed as a leverage tool that is used by the African-Americans through civil rights leaders to push for radical changes regarding their life situations. Malcolm X’s point of view represents the voice of thousands of black Americans (Perry, 2014). The film portrays the white as people enjoying a monopoly of power and superiority complex thus taking advantage of the gap to oppress the African-American resulting in a retaliatory action from the oppressed (Ling & Monteith, 2014). Generally, the film represents the civil rights movement in a good light. It not only tends to bring equality between different factions but it is also oriented towards creating peace and sustainable development in the region (Nimtz, 2016). In this regard, the film has made several attempts to portray incidents and effects of social injustice in society. 

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Personal View

In my opinion, Malcolm X has effectively fulfilled the threshold elements of an exploratory film. It is well developed from the beginning, through to climax and the end. It highlights a past story narrated in the current view, giving a vivid picture of Malcolm X’s life trajectory. Ideally, it also meets the expected choreography standards thus it is an accurate reflection of real life. To improve the film, I would make more use of the flashback caption areas or snap videos of the past events to add value to the theme of the civil rights movement. Notably, I would also incorporate more use of the switch sounds to mark distinctions between the live narrations and the flashbacks. All in all, Malcolm X is a great film which has done an exceptional job in providing its audience an insight into Malcolm X life as a civil rights leader.

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