Tag Archives | racism

Movie Review: Marshall (2017)

Depicting Thurgood Marshall as brash, fast-talking and arrogant, with a chip on his shoulder, some might even use the word “uppity”, especially in 1941 when the movie Marshall takes place, fall’s new biographical picture features Chadwick Boseman (Get On Up, 42, Black Panther in the Marvel Comics film series, such as Captain America: Civil War) in another fine turn as a man of ability.

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Steeped in grainy, period detail with Ruth Carter’s costumes, a kind of reverence for black subculture and U.S. history and a mocking reference to “old Negro superstition”, TV director Reginald Hudlin does a skillful job, too, recreating a single, early marker in the life of the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. Marhsall was a lone lawyer for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), a historically enslaved and persecuted group of Americans that needed a legal defense different from whites because they were treated as lesser than whites.

Enter Marshall, who’s riding rails to defend presumably innocent blacks when he’s not stirring up trouble with Harlem renaissance figures such as poet and Communist sympathizer Langston Hughes (Jussie Smollett, Empire), who may have been gay, and freethinking Republican Zora Neale Hurston (Rozonda ‘Chilli” Thomas), author of Their Eyes Were Watching God. With a beautiful, pregnant young wife who wants him home more often, Marshall feels the push and pressure of being a pioneer while trying to cash in on the change he seeks to enact.

As fictionalized here, and it is dramatized with liberties taken, including certain, key facts and that Boseman looks nothing like Marshall, Marshall teams up with white, Jewish lawyer Sam Friedman (Josh Gad, Frozen, A Dog’s Purpose) and defends an accused Negro rapist (Sterling K. Brown, This Is Us) against his wealthy, white employer (Kate Hudson, Raising Helen, Almost Famous). It’s a highly controversial case with several discrepancies, an all-white jury and strict judge (James Cromwell, The Artist) presiding and, curiously, how it plays out under Marshall’s guidance contradicts current left-wing “rape-culture” dogma (read an account of the real life case with spoilers here).

The cast is outstanding and, while Marshall is episodic to the tee which will disappoint those who, like me, may anticipate a wider perspective, this applies to everyone, even supporting actors and Hudson, whose acting I’ve criticized in the past. Brown (This Is Us, Darden in the recent O.J. Simpson murder trial TV series) is among the screen’s best actors bar none and Cromwell (Surrogates, The Queen, Spider-Man 3) is at his best. So, I hope first-time feature director Hudlin makes this the first of a trilogy or something — if I dare to imagine a movie franchise based on men of the mind — about Marshall (Marshall 2: Brown v. Board of Education?) and, personally, I’d love to see spinoffs about Hughes and especially the underappreciated Hurston, though they play bit parts here. As fine a director as he is in working with his actors and establishing the scenes, and the set and production design are really fabulous, Hudlin trips with little details.

For instance, the prosecutor (blue-eyed Dan Stevens, the beast in Disney’s recent remake of Beauty and the Beast) is the stereotypical bigoted white villain. Also, I didn’t figure out that Brown’s character worked for the woman until well into the courtroom drama and I wanted to know at least a bit about Brown’s relationship with his wife, which I think might have added another layer to Marshall‘s humanist theme. As it is, however, Marshall marshals its impressive resources, including good music, with dignity and respect, and a degree of subtlety, which racist, tribalist and race-baiting critics are likely to miss.

With frankness about the NAACP’s self-serving aims, license in favor of Marshall’s role at the expense of Friedman’s and twists you might not see coming, stylish, clever plot points gently unfurl. One of them, with two men ultimately, simply disconnecting, as happens in life, accentuates the separatism.

The meaning of the movie’s lightbulb moment, which skillfully cuts to what catapults Thurgood Marshall from ambitious young lawyer to long-range thinking champion for the oppressed, may be missed if you don’t think twice. But my favorite scene entails a whites-only drinking fountain and the matter of fact way in which the title character selfishly serves and suits himself, living in — to paraphrase Ayn Rand — the future he fights for today. As with Clint Eastwood‘s Mandela movie, Invictus, 2009’s best movie, Marshall depicts Marshall in only his best and most heroic sense and it’s up to historians to sort fact from fiction. Here, America’s first black Supreme Court justice is portrayed in his younger years as marvelously intransigent. Look for an elegant ending courtesy of three characters in cameos by Trayvon Martin’s parents and their thoughtful attorney.

Movie Review: Hidden Figures

What was it like to be black, female and exceptionally skilled in 1961? This question is at the core of writer and director Theodore Melfi‘s Hidden Figures, a topical, authentic and fascinating look back at mid-20th century American exceptionalism from a fresh and life-affirming perspective. Melfi (St. Vincent), who co-wrote the screenplay, probes beyond racism, making this movie fuller than others in the mid-century American true story genre (Selma comes to mind).

Hidden Figures is as logical as math. As with 42, the movie is direct and linear, so what you see and get is a depiction of the woman of ability in three workers for the U.S. space program: Mary Jackson (singer Janelle Monae, Moonlight), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer, Black or White) and Katherine Goble (Taraji P. Henson, Cookie on Empire)—all working to launch an American astronaut into orbit.


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Prefaced by a flashback that sets this up with a drama of the gifted child, to bend a phrase from Alice Miller, Hidden Figures (based on a book) starts with the trio stranded on a Virginia roadside. Spencer’s Dorothy solves a car problem. Mary sasses. Katherine imagines. A trajectory is charted from there.

The direction is upward, with a few twists and offshoots. Tracking the Soviet Sputnik satellite, which posed a threat to the United States, NASA’s Mercury and Friendship programs and the effort to put John Glenn into orbit, Melfi and company recreate rational action led by a boss portrayed by Kevin Costner (Black or White). Costner’s character personifies the secular humanist theme, reminding his numbers-crunching, Langley, Virginia, team that calculations for putting man into space ultimately redound to the individual and one’s values here on earth.

“Look past numbers”, he urges, a piece of wisdom which applies to today’s aggregated and automated industries—especially to those working in government programs—and choose instead to think. When he needs someone who knows math, up from the team’s pool of segregated black women, despite the instant desegregation, comes a particularly bright Negro named Katherine (Henson). This lady knows advanced math. More crucial to the boss, the mission and her life, she knows how to tune out distraction and avoid any tendency to rationalize. Similarly, and appropos of their abilities, Mary and Dorothy put their goals on track, too, while helping to put John Glenn in space. Glenn, who later became a U.S. senator from Ohio who propagated the welfare state and who recently died, is portrayed as a freethinker.

The script serves each character’s turn. For example, Dorothy (Spencer), going against a bureaucrat (Kirsten Dunst in a career best performance), strives to match her skills to her livelihood. From tinkering with the stalled car to being first to step up to face bad news (the film tracks the civil rights movement, too), her vigorous leadership is integral in her everyday life. Sassy Mary (Monae doing a fine job) chooses to focus her smart mouth on breaking a racist barrier and becoming an engineer. She’s also unashamed to express sexual desire for a white man and do what a white man (who’s a Jew) says he wants her to do as she builds the case for her own cause.

The women in Hidden Figures act for selfishness, not for altruism.

This is undeniable; they do not act for the sake of the race, tribe, sex, God or others. Each woman bases her identity on character and her self-esteem on knowledge gained by her reasoning mind. Dorothy, in a triumphant scene, chooses to reclaim property which she properly regards as hers, explaining the context to her son, who thinks Mom is stealing from the government. Dorothy does this to acquire knowledge, amplifying the point. Octavia Spencer (Snowpiercer, Black or White, Zootopia) portrays Dorothy Vaughan’s determination with precision in a measured performance which underscores that she is one of the screen’s best actresses. So, too, does Henson as Katherine, who meets a man (Mahershala Ali, the drug dealer in Moonlight) during her NASA tenure.

Katherine pushes, tests and strives to be her best against extreme prejudice and this, too, is undeniable. Rarely has the toilet’s role in the American history of ostracizing others been so memorably dramatized as in this sequence of workplace coffee scenes leading up to a total breakdown. Melfi captures the emotional damage inflicted by those moved by collectivism—in this case, by its most primitive variant, racism—upon the individual. He does this through strong and subtle character development in performances which all shine, down to the smallest roles, including his wife Kimberly Quinn’s as Ruth and Jim Parsons’ as lead engineer.

The three leads (and Costner) excel at the top of the cast, showing that each woman of the mind simply tries to do her best work; moreover, each woman enjoys her work and knows its value, which is why the film’s positivism is a crucial, bold and skillfully made decision. Activism becomes an urgent practical necessity born of the clash between progress and bad philosophy, i.e., traditionalism and collectivism.

This is what makes Hidden Figures inspiring. These women were pioneers, yet they were exceptional, producing impeccable results for the greatest nation on earth. Melfi recognizes this, too, and he does so with his trademark poignancy and humor (see his St. Vincent if you haven’t already) in scene after scene. These three women were ambitious, proud and selfish—qualities we’re taught to reject as unsavory—and he honors them both for acting as egoists and as Americans who refuse to opt out of a partly unjust, partly free and changing society. Mary, Dorothy and Katherine, as portrayed in Hidden Figures, act as if they know that their defiance of the U.S. government is an assertion of their moral right to pursue happiness. Each unmistakably acts for her own sake. Yet each acts as unmistakably as a patriotic American. Hidden Figures shows that this alignment was especially, powerfully hard and admirable for the black woman of the mind.

But you need not hold selfishness as the top virtue to find something wondrous and enlightening in the stories of these Hidden Figures.

Though it tends to come off as too good to be true, skimming too much of their lives, Hidden Figures displays a certain love for one’s work—depicting reverence for productiveness—in carrying out a mission which concretizes America at her best. In this way, Theodore Melfi’s Hidden Figures dramatizes that, in America, the individual who calculates what’s in her self-interest can—despite whatever others and the government do to keep her down—reach for the stars and achieve whatever she wants.


Interview: Theodore Melfi on St. Vincent (2014)

Measuring the Apollo Moon Missions (2005)

Movie and DVD Review: Apollo 11

Apollo 11 Premieres on Turner Classic Movies

Neil Armstrong, Astronaut, RIP

Movie Review: Loving


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Loving by Jeff Nichols (Midnight Special, Mud, Take Shelter) starring Joel Edgerton (Midnight Special, The Great Gatsby) and Ruth Negga (World War Z) captures at once the tension of man’s morally principled stand against the state, love’s intimacy and the immeasurable toll government control exacts upon the best people.

As it does, Loving deftly tests one’s rationality at every turn, demanding that the audience—woman or man, white or black—examine closely, and subconsciously, held biases, values and ideals. Like this season’s other lyrical movie about forbidden love, Moonlight, and other such tales (Brokeback Mountain comes to mind), Loving comes in three parts: breaking from tradition, getting caught and the final accounting with the facts of reality. It’s a hard, moving and elegiac movie and it ranks with Black or White and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner high among Hollywood’s greatest interracial-themed films.

Unlike those other movies, however, Loving‘s lust, love and guiltlessness is on full display. In fact, writer and director Nichols, a native Arkansan who lives in the Lone Star State as he told the screening’s audience this weekend in Hollywood, immerses the moviegoer in the nine-year saga of a Virginia married couple who, from 1958 to 1967, defied the state at every turn.

Opening with the prolonged singing of crickets against a dark screen to draw you into their world, layering in sights and sounds of Old Dominion’s nature and the manmade, from leisurely grasshoppers—the “birds and the bees”—to drag-racing and gunning of Ford Motor Company Galaxies and Fairlanes, mid-century mid-Southern living means hard work and easy, natural loving. Men, including blond, white and brawny Richard Loving (Edgerton, studied and owning the role) concentrate on every detail in manual labor. Men and women, black and white, toil under hoods of cars tinkering with engines, on blazing sun-drenched construction sites smoothing concrete edges and in wooden rooms delivering babies.

In one emblematic scene, they toil in tobacco fields and, as the camera pans, it becomes clear that it’s been almost a hundred years since the end of the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation. Races by now are mixed and, amid the race mixing, with poor whites such as Loving and biracial or multiracial people such as his girlfriend Mildred (Negga in a subtly mannered performance), this part of a Virginia county is a community. Marriage of a white man to a partially black woman (which happened in real life and is the basis for this movie) is almost like breaking a sweat in the fields or cracking open a beer; it ought to be mere fact of life.

Only it isn’t an acceptable notion and everybody knows it. Except for Richard Loving, who takes his bride to where it’s legal to marry among different races and comes back to the county where all hell breaks loose and someone—it’s never disclosed who—snitches to the police, who enforce the archaic law banning interracial marriage by breaking in on the married couple’s bedroom. Almost as soon as the cop (Marton Csokas, Amazing Spider-Man 2, Alice in Wonderland) invokes religion—condemning the man-woman relationship as breaking “God’s law”—the newlyweds proclaim themselves “Guilty”. They go to jail. And Mrs. Loving is pregnant.

But Nichols, as he did in Midnight Special, Take Shelter and Mud, brings in the winds of change, which keep blowing and regenerating the lands and minds of Loving. Mildred and Rich Loving, like outcasts, forbidden lovers and persecuted others everywhere, try to live by the rules and can’t abide. One of the smartest things about the screenplay is its insistence on going slow, not fast, in showing how Mr. and Mrs. Loving fail to disown their egos—living apart, leaving the county, the state, and their families—in order to be a married couple. As they keep having kids, with the U.S. Capitol and Washington Monument in the backdrop, Nichols dramatizes the folly of selflessness.

Winds blow, lives are torn apart and Loving sifts through the years as they live in fear of total government control of their lives. In this way, thanks to Nichols, Negga and especially Edgerton’s flawless performance as a man who is completely alone among his fellow men, Loving is emotionally powerful like Snowden. A scene at the bar where he drinks beer with his drag racing buddies confirms that collectivism (i.e., racism) contaminates every part of his life and Richard Loving’s response is a wrenching depiction of statism’s harmful impact on the individual. “I love my wife”, Loving says at a crucial point. But when he does, he knows the terrible and unjust cost of refusing to be conquered by the violation of his rights.

The man who labors, races and loves his wife and children is a credit to himself, however. In a single exercise of free speech, someone reaches out for help and help goes on the way. It’s a long time and hard fight in coming and the waiting robs the couple of time. That one of their only precious and private moments comes during a brief rest during The Andy Griffith Show with a Life photographer on hand is integral to the historic couple’s unique tragedy and legacy. This lesson is the moral of Nichols’ searing yet gilded new fable.

Movie Review: Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967)

Though I’ve seen Stanley Kramer’s 1967 motion picture Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner several times, last week was the first time I saw it in a movie theater. Seeing this historic movie with an audience in Hollywood, courtesy of TCM Classic Film Festival 2016 (read my postscript on the introduction after this review and more about the festival here), with contextualization by a leading cast member and a film scholar, gives me deeper appreciation for this bright, intelligent and colorful movie. Its us against the world/to hell with what others think idealism is embedded, radical and wholly embraced by the audience nearly 50 years after its debut.


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Despite its detractors, and there are many, especially on the left, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner remains extremely powerful, if sometimes static. Spencer Tracy—who died days after the picture’s final production—and Katharine Hepburn co-starred for the ninth and last time opposite Sidney Poitier and Katharine Houghton as the interracial couple. The Tracy-Hepburn pairing persists as the credited cause for the picture’s impact yet I found that this adds, but does not fully power, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.

As a Bay Area couple whose professed liberal values are tested when their daughter (Hepburn’s niece Katharine Houghton) announces her engagement to a black doctor (Poitier), Tracy and Hepburn are indelibly cast and give emotional authenticity to the film particularly its famous final scene. The screenplay, too, by William Rose, who won an Academy Award for his work, is excellent, which unfortunately if not surprisingly is often ignored when the movie’s discussed.

Of course, producer and director Kramer, whose adaptations of Nevil Shute’s post-apocalyptic novel On the Beach and the Scopes monkey trial play Inherit the Wind, as well as Ship of Fools, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and Judgment at Nuremberg, and lesser known movies such as Oklahoma Crude with Faye Dunaway and The Secret of Santa Vittoria with Anthony Quinn, make compelling cinema of serious and challenging themes, deserves top credit.

But one line, expertly delivered by the great Sidney Poitier—“I fell in love with your daughter”—who mastered the year in movies with outstanding performances in In the Heat of the Night and To Sir, with Love, fundamentally makes the movie credible. Poitier’s line is neither delivered in defiance nor in apology; it is a clarification brimming with joy and spoken in solidarity with a father as his equal. At every point in this groundbreaking film, from his flirting with a black woman to his response to servant Tillie (Isabell Sanford), who judges him solely by his race, Poitier’s John Prentice acts on his own judgment for his own benefit; he is the title’s who that drives the plot’s progression.

With non-verbal cues, such as picking through a sandwich as if looking for signs of sabotage after Tillie serves refreshments on the terrace, Poitier’s Dr. Prentice personifies the rational man. When Dr. Prentice speaks, he maintains his virtues, whether setting his terms with his fiancee’s parents, responding with tact during cocktails with her friends or erupting with fury at his father (Roy E. Glenn, Sr.) when he decides to declare his break with tradition. Most of this happens at the San Francisco home of his fiancee’s parents, newspaper publisher Matt (Tracy) and small business owner Christina (Hepburn) Drayton.

Their daughter’s proposition is for her parents to bless this interracial union before the couple leaves to get married, which is to happen imminently, so there isn’t time to deliberate about a marriage which, in 1967, was illegal in almost half the country. Besides Sanford’s outspoken Tillie, with whom the audience identifies up to a point for her work ethic, protectiveness and suspicion of the black separatist movement, several other characters participate in the pre-dinner affair, including a Catholic priest (Cecil Kellaway) who is friends with Mr. and Mrs. Drayton and Hilary (Virginia Christine), a parasite who works for Mrs. Drayton.

Yet Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner begins at the airport, where Rose and Kramer cue the simple love theme, set the movie’s steady pace and establish that the world changes and one must stay on the move.

The black and white couple descend an escalator with a gathering of happy children, representing youth and the future, and take a taxi—where they exchange an interracial kiss, to the astonishment of the blue-eyed cab driver—to Mrs. Drayton’s downtown art gallery, where they encounter leech-like Hilary and her modernist contraption. Along the way, Dr. Prentice learns that Mrs. Drayton is an entrepreneur and that her daughter is proud of it. Then, they arrive to meet the parents. A foghorn sounds in San Francisco Bay, signalling trouble ahead.

The agitator is Joanna “Joey” Drayton (Katharine Houghton in her flawless movie debut), an idealistic white woman who meets the handsome black doctor on a trip to Hawaii and instantly falls in love.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner seasons the conflict, with an occasionally artificial air and its own archaic notions, such as Dr. Prentice’s line about a marriage being for the purpose of procreation. From Hepburn’s equalizing command more than question—”Can’t we all sit down?”—to the establishing shot of Matt Drayton’s study with its books and photograph of Franklin Roosevelt, every turn is seeded, earned and dramatized. Whatever makes it seem dated, such as the interracial dance scene between “knockout” Dorothy and the go-go delivery boy, Monsignor Ryan quoting the Beatles or Matt Drayton’s disastrous attempt to prove himself to be a thoroughly modern man eating boysenberry ice cream, which permits the movie to simultaneously acknowledge the “angry black man” and the “angry white man”, adds up to the climactic final speech and dinnertime.

This includes the appearance of Dr. Prentice’s parents, a decent couple from Los Angeles visiting snooty San Francisco (where their would-be daughter-in-law looks down upon a girl from Pomona). Bringing the earlier taxi scene full circle, his mother (Oscar-nominated Beah Richards) and father silently ride in the backseat as Joanna Drayton drives, with Mr. Prentice looking angrily at the white woman and with Mrs. Prentice looking admiringly at her son, the widower who lost a child, is ready to love again and marry on his own terms as his own man. It’s a powerful contrast which precedes Poitier’s later emotional outburst to his character’s father that he thinks of himself as a man, not as a “colored” man.

That the meaning of this line has been flipped and reversed today—with the father’s notion that one’s identity is based upon race sadly closer to predominant ideals about race among today’s black intellectuals, who proclaim themselves “persons of color”—and Poitier’s Dr. Prentice would likely be branded an unenlightened “Uncle Tom” (which is what Poitier was branded by a black newspaper columnist after his banner year) only serves the movie’s theme that love is colorblind, which, in reality, is true. So, too, is the picture’s optimistic forecast about an American Negro becoming president of the United States of America.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner is no less probing and powerful, if neatly arranged and produced, a picture show now as it was then. Almost every scene stands out as important. It is sharp, biting and proud—and, ominously, still radical in its comic and dramatic case against collectivism.

Movie historian Donald Bogle brought out co-star and stage actress Katharine Houghton at TCM Classic Film Festival 2016‘s screening of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner at the Chinese Theater 6 in Hollywood and the two exchanged a brief question and answer about the historic film. Houghton said that she was constantly on hold because the Columbia Pictures production was on, then off, then on again, and she explained that Columbia did not want to make the movie, which the studio apparently did not know was about interracial love during development, for fear of the audience’s negative response. Though Bogle and Houghton had the effect of apologizing for Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner by indicating that it was made for white audiences, her enthusiasm for the film’s theme that love is universal remains in her interview and performance.

Movie Review: Malcolm X (1992)

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The words “…by any means necessary,” conclude Spike Lee’s racist propaganda piece, Malcolm X.

This phrase asserting that the ends justify the means, a rationalization for tyranny throughout history, is the movie’s theme. Lee capably gives “by any means necessary”, which gained acceptance among black supremacists with the Black Panther movement during the rise of the New Left (Black Panther founder Bobby Seale is featured among this cast of hundreds), a cinematic flourish. Malcolm X, with Denzel Washington in the title role, is memorably distinctive.

Lee (Do the Right Thing) dramatizes the life of hoodlum Malcolm Little, who converted to Islam in prison, adopted the X and called for racial segregation, in broad but skillful strokes. As with the mediocre depiction of X’s peer, Martin Luther King, in Selma, this movie is fragmented and televisionary, not really epic in scope, and many scenes in the 3-hour movie are superfluous. But as with King at Selma, there is much in his life which is meaningful and from which the true freedom-fighter can gain and learn. Lee’s journalistic approach is often even-handed, though it is also slanted and diminished by racism.

Malcolm X begins with an anti-homage to the famous scene from Patton (1970). An American flag writ large appears. It soon begins to burn. So commences Lee’s movie about x-ing out what America is founded upon, what America stands for, what America means. Blurry, black and white images of a Rodney King beating video that sparked the 1992 Los Angeles riots are seen, clearly establishing this film as more of a statement than a biographical picture.

Biographical fragments are pictured, typically very well, with early flashback scenes of the Ku Klux Klan attacking the Little family’s home near Omaha, Nebraska. Malcolm’s father was a black separatist, too, a fact which is lightly treated, but he carried a gun and defended his family and the parallels to Tea Party activism are numerously unmistakable, though certainly this was not Lee’s intention.

Nevertheless, Little’s attempts at self-reliance, his hatred of government intervention in private lives—”the state agency destroyed my family”—and his admiration for the closest he could find to a man of honor (the always excellent Delroy Lindo) dramatize that his potential was real, his premises and choices were mixed and, whatever the rampant racism of American life, which was real, he had dominion over his own life. As with today’s persecuted Americans, including those targeted such as Tea Party groups by the government such as the IRS, Malcolm Little had control over his own life. Lee shows this. Lee shows that Little chose to be a con man, a thief, a hustler.

Mr. Washington’s smooth, arch portrayal captures the hustle in essentials. The hustle, which is partly an upright attempt to gain value and partly a downright play on putting one over on others, became Malcolm’s stock in trade. This is what he knew. That it morphed into a movement and gave birth to the race hustle—look for its main practitioner Al Sharpton in a cameo—should be noted by today’s cultural students and scholars. The hustle as Americans know it starts here with Malcolm X, who twists the self-made man into the self-made thug-turned-Moslem. It is mixed. It is born of real injustice. It could have gone either way.

Little first chose one way, crime and dishonesty, until he chose another way, which Malcolm X would have the audience believe was motivated by honest pursuit of the good: spiritual peace and honor through a radical, new intellectual import targeting the American Negro: the Nation of Islam.

With Christopher Plummer (The Sound of Music, The Amateur) as a prison priest who serves as the bogeyman—the “white devil”—for Malcolm to use to strengthen his newfound prison conversion to Islam, he slowly applies and integrates his worship of an Islamic deity, Elijah Muhammad, into his thinking, his habits and his practices. He wills himself into the man of faith, one without an ego, without thought. Seeking through Islam to free himself from “the prison of [his] mind”, Malcolm Little chooses to call himself Malcolm X, though curiously Malcolm X doesn’t make much of the name change, possibly because the X designation never caught on.

But Islam did and it is still spreading among non-whites in America, the targeted demographic by African Moslems, whom Malcolm visited in Africa, and it’s spreading to whites, too, as by now everyone knows. Lee romanticizes this particular religion, gently taking Angela Bassett’s meek Islamic woman, with whom Malcolm fell in love, from observant headscarf-wearing Moslem to uncovered housebound birthing vessel with not a trace of personality change other than her saintly concern for Malcolm and her marriage. The children are seen, not heard, and their father is never seen parenting them even for an instant. He’s more interested in giving speeches than in loving his wife or his children. Women are as segregated by the radical black Moslems as the races and this is depicted without judgment, and there is plenty of what would today be called “slut shaming”, again with not a whiff of castigation. Severe condemnation is reserved for whites only; as in today’s leftist circles, Islam and its archaic codes get a pass.

“The key to Islam is submission,” Malcolm X correctly states, so, in this sense, Malcolm X is honest. Malcolm X submits “100 percent”. One of the most interesting aspects of this star-studded movie, which is based on The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley (Roots) and co-written by James Baldwin (Go Tell it on the Mountain), though his estate asked that his name be removed from the credits, is how it depicts the turn on Malcolm within the Nation of Islam. Led by Elijah Muhammad (Al Freeman, Jr.), ironically evoking charges against the film’s financier, Bill Cosby, Malcolm’s incendiary rhetoric—he stated that he was “glad” JFK was assassinated and that the murder was an act of “justice”—made his ascent more problematic for the cult.

For his part, Malcolm, who agreed with racists such as Bull Connor and George Wallace that people should be judged and separated based on race—”the only thing I like integrated is my coffee”—appeared to have shifted in his thinking after the trip to Africa. Malcolm X shows that he had regressed from being meek, humble and servile to whites while working on trains (“yes, sir”) to being meek, humble and servile to blacks while working in mosques (“yes, sir”). It is also impossible not to notice nearly 25 years after this movie was made that the nations whose black African leaders are depicted in the backdrop of a street rally mural have been subjugated to a barbaric new Islamic caliphate that’s spreading across what was once known as the dark continent; Africa as a symbol for black supremacy has become a breeding ground for the forces of the most brutal religious doctrines known to man.

Most people know what happened to the small-time crook who took up with a white woman and became a man of faith, urging blacks to separate from whites, “get off welfare”, meet with Martin Luther King at Selma—curiously omitted here—and usher in a “time for martyrs.” He was brutally gunned down by black Moslems in Harlem. But his story is part of modern American history and, as I wrote in my review of distinguished black scholar Manning Marable’s epic biography, Malcolm X, any one who seeks to know how America came to be insidiously threatened with Islamic holocaust ought to study this part of history, which is inextricably linked with Americans’ refusal to explicitly name and renounce racism’s source, collectivism, leading American Negroes into philosophies for dying, not living, on earth. As Ossie Davis, who delivered Malcolm X’s eulogy in life and in this film, said of Malcolm X, and he intends this as a compliment: “He didn’t hesitate to die.”

Whatever its flaws, excesses and gaping holes, Spike Lee’s uneven Malcolm X at least dramatizes that Malcolm X, who may have succeeded in ushering in an era of self-sacrifice, didn’t really acquire the tools to live.

The 1992 picture screened with an appearance by the writer and director at TCM’s Classic Film Festival on Hollywood Boulevard. Unfortunately, a dull, unexceptional interview was conducted and Lee never did discuss the essentials of Malcolm X’s experience in life, including Lee’s treatment of Islam and how Islam has manifested in today’s world. There was no mention of the Islamic terrorist attacks on America in 1993, 2001 or 2012, let alone at Boston or other recent acts of war, or the fundamentalist Moslem morality of persecuting the homosexual, the woman and the infidel. Lee did discuss Denzel Washington’s decision to stop eating pork and drinking alcohol, in observation of Islamic practices, and hiring an Islamic camera crew to film certain scenes.

But it is a telling sign that Spike Lee was flatly refused admission to film in Mecca for Malcolm X, proving again that the “religion of peace” grants no peace to the infidel of any color. To his credit, Lee did shoot down a jab at the project’s original director, Norman Jewison (In the Heat of the Night), and came to Jewison’s defense, and he credited talk show hostess Oprah Winfrey with giving him the money to finish the movie when Warner Bros. balked. But, when I called out a question asking if he had read Manning Marable’s excellent biography of Malcolm X (read my review here), Spike Lee, in his New York Yankees’ cap, turned to me and gestured with an equivocal horizontal hand wobble, which is too bad, because the book is better than the movie and he might have gained new insight about an important figure in U.S. history.

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