The movie Malcolm X (1992) is a seminal cinematic work by the director Spike Lee. The film portrays the journey of Malcolm as he transforms as a man, delving deep into his racial and ethnic identity in the society. One of the best attributes of the film is the director’s achievement in the portraiture of Malcolm’s progression of thinking. The audience can very well comprehend the chronology of incidents and reasoning that led to his stance on the issue of racism.
Malcolm faced a lot in life right from a tender age. His father, a minister, was killed, in all probability by the Klan. His home was burned down by the Klan. His mother sent him to a foster home due to economic crunch. The white teachers at the school never paid heed to his academic excellence, and insisted that he did something “with his hands.” From working as a porter, to becoming a gangster, Malcolm had seen it all. He spent years in prison, where he got associated with the Black Muslim movement of Elijah Muhammad. He goes on to become one of the most charismatic figures among the Black Muslims, having shed his last name in the course of time. He goes on to preach that the whites are devils and the blacks should become self-sufficient and independent.
The film does not portray Malcolm X as an aggressive person, but the events shown are explanatory to the audience: both whites and blacks. The audience can comprehend the scars of the experiences of the protagonist. His motives are understandable, and this is something that makes him come across as a heroic character at the end of the movie. The people of the black race can very well identify with the various ill experiences of Malcolm that shaped him as a person. He is portrayed as someone who was capable of self-criticism. He is seen to be developing his ideas till his assassination.
Griffin’s book, Black Like Me, was adapted as a cinematic work that portrayed the perils faced by the protagonist as he embarks upon a journey. The film by the same title is another apt example of racism and ethnic bias of the society.
The film portrays the racial slur and discrimination that was faced by the white who was being perceived as a black due to his temporary black skin color. The abuse and mental torment that is faced by the protagonist exposes the racism which is innate in the society. This man is bullied by the bus driver, and is even terrorized by two thugs. The protagonist faces discrimination by his employers, and is treated to be an inferior in comparison to the white people. The film portrays how the man faces insult from whites. The white people ask him very offensive questions regarding sex, which shows how the whites looked down upon the black people in the society.
The film by Carl Lerner reaches out to the audience to show the perils faced by the white man who chose to live the life of a black person for the time being. The whites can very well imagine how painful it would have been if they were subjected to such brutality based on their ethnic identity and race. The uniqueness of the film lies in the fact that it portrays the experiences of this white man who is in the shoes of a black individual.
Thus, the film portrays to the audience how the blacks were looked down upon by the whites. It is shocking to know the extent of torture the black people have gone through in the past. A person’s race and ethnic identity has been the key factor behind his gaining respect or being disrespected and tortured. Such acts of racial discrimination and bias are inhuman to say the least. The two films aptly bring out the issue in front of the masses across the globe, and essentially criticize the bias and stereotypes that add to the misery of the minority.
Black Like Me. Directed by Carl Lerner. 1964. Los Angeles: Video Service Corp., 2012. DVD.
Crowther, Bosley. “Black Like Me (1964) James Whitmore Stars in Book's Adaptation.”
nytimes.com. 21 May 1964,
Ebert, Robert. “Malcolm X.” rogerebert.com. 26 October 2014,
Griffin, John Howard. Black Like Me. Texas: Wings Press, 1962.
Malcolm X. Directed by Spike Lee. 1992. Burbank: Warner Home Video, 2000. DVD.
X, Malcolm, and Alex Haley. The Autobiography of Malcolm X. New York City: Grove Press,