It is safe to say that even in 2021, Malcolm X is still one of the best biopics ever produced. It brings to the screen so many of the iconic moments in the autobiography of Malcolm X, which can be attributed to director Spike Lee, whose signature filmmaking style makes the visuals gel perfectly with the story. There is no going around Denzel Washington’s performance in this film. He does not merely imitate Malcolm X, he embodies him..From the fiery speeches, to the presence and appearance, Denzel’s performance is Oscar-worthy. Everyone in this film is phenomenal including Angela Basset as Betty Shabazz, Delroy Lindo as West Indian Archie, and oddly enough even Spike Lee as Shorty.
This is not to say the film is perfect because, after all, it is a dramatization of the book. Most of the changes were understandable but some bothered me more than others. The character Brother Baine is an amalgamation of various figures in the book, most prominently the fascinating man Malcolm X meets in jail called Bimbi. Brother Baine is the one that convinces Malcolm to join the Nation of Islam in the film but in real life, it was his brother Reginald. Most of the family members that Malcolm relied on are left out of the film. I understand why they did not make an appearance but not having his half Sister Ella was a bit odder to me. The other thing that I thought was missing from the film was Malcolm’s commitment to pan-Africanism after he finished his Hajj. In the book, he visits various African leaders and begins to articulate a vision that encompasses the liberation of black people all over the world. This more internationalist view is very important to highlight in our world right now with the way Black Lives Matter has been amplified all over the world.
With all that said, I really enjoyed the movie because despite how some details are left out, the movie is mostly in line with actual history which is surprisingly not a common thing in biopics. It’s captivating, thought-provoking and it reminds me of all the many times I have read the autobiography.