Malcolm X (1992)

Where I Watched it: HBo MAX

English Audio Description?: no

Just like I did with White Men Can’t Jump, I watched Malcolm X with the intention of filling in a gap in the 1992 titles I’d seen, and hopefully knock out some that were aimed at a different target demo in 1992. In 1992, i still woke up on Saturday mornings and watched my cartoons. So a three hour Malcolm X biopic would have likely put me to sleep.

And not only do I want to discuss that runtime, but the fact that this 1992 film still has a historical significance that should require it to have audio description. it’s surprisingly only PG-13, so it’s not outside the realm of possibility to say that this could work as an educational tool in a classroom, but without accessibility, students with blind and visual impairments would likely miss out on everything I feel like i missed out on.

Spike Lee realizes that condensing anyones life into a film is like playing the greatest hits. It’s almost impossible to ever truly capture the essence of anyone in a short period of time, but every director and actor/actress always seek to make that connection. To bring the most realistic and honest interpretation to the audience.

Perhaps then, this explains why lee’s film runs over three hours. Why he felt so committed to the idea that we needed to know all of Malcolm, even the part before he sought enlightenment. We see a somewhat carousing individual having a brush with crime, and from an early age having a very specific view on race relations in America. It’s not necessarily that he felt inspired so much later in life by trials and tribulations, but that his upbringing brought with him a level of racism that children shouldn’t have to experience.

Generally, with biopics, we fly through the childhood part, and the ‘before fame”, but really the first third of the film is devoted to the Malcolm we rarely ever discuss. It’s also the weakest part of the film.

And when i say weak, I mean weak for this film, or for a Spike Lee script. not weak in reflection to the totality of cinema. It’s just, if I were trimming the runtime, it would come all out of the first act. Lee’s script and direction is like a musical composition, and it requires an adept and technically perfect musician. Lee finds this in Denzel Washington’s performance, that while still early in his career, still has Washington’s almost alien ability to deliver the perfect speech. Something about his delivery always captivates his audience, and pulls them in. Washington does that through the whole film, and despite the presence of other talented and well known cast members, it’s always Denzel who commands the moment.

It’s a film I’m glad I finally saw, and while not my favorite Spike Lee joint, or Washington performance, you’re still watching these sparks of genius form. It’s a shame that this doesn’t have audio description, and I hope that changes.

And of course, this film didn’t even need my voice added to the conversation. I’m not sure Malcolm X would have appreciated a white blind male movie critic having thoughts on what did or didn’t work. i can’t morph into someone I’m not, so this is my review. And I just think this movie is a little long.

Final Grade: B+

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