Spike Lee’s sprawling biopic of Malcolm X is a work of brilliance. Lee patiently explores Malcom’s past, from his childhood in rural Nebraska on the cloud of Klan violence to his days as a dapper dandy and small-time crook to his religious conversion and rise as a firebrand inflaming the fires of racial inequality and to his final moral apotheosis prior to his tragic death.
Malcolm X is often seen depicted as a man blinded by his own vituperation, a man whose noble goals were overshadowed by the extremity of his views, however Lee’s depiction of Malcolm is that of a noble, even pure man, whose eloquence was transformed into righteous anger, but whose goals were focused on he betterment of mankind. So Malcolm is able to reconcile the actions of Elijah Muhammad in impregnating so many women outside of marriage with his puritanical views on Islam, so Malcolm is too blinkered to see the seething jealousy and corruption with surrounds him at the Nation of Islam and by the time the scales have fallen off it is too late; the Nation has already used Malcolm to enhance its profile and see fit to dispense and murder him just as he is able to gain a more humanistic perspective of race relations.
The most overwhelming theme of ‘Malcolm X’ however is that of tragedy. Not only is Malcolm’s whole life, from the institutional racism he faced to his expulsion from the very thing which defined him as a person, but the tragedy of a truly brilliant man’s life being cut down just as he has the chance to truly change the world for the better. It is hard to see the real Malcolm beyond the verisimilitude and myths which surround him, yet Spike Lee comes as close as anybody ever will to capturing his greatness.