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Malcolm X (1992)

Street hustler Malcolm Little converts to Islam while in prison, changes his name to Malcolm X and rises to fame as spokesman for the Nation of Islam. But his controversial statements on race relations make him powerful enemies.

To describe a film as “worthy” is to damn it with faint praise. But, as much as one admires the ambition of this biographical drama from Spike Lee, it is surprisingly conventional and, at times, downright dull: one longs for the hectoring quality of Lee’s other pictures and, indeed, Lee’s public interviews.

Instead, we have reams and reams of speeches, and Denzel Washington as the black militant leader of the 1960s (the fire to Martin Luther King‘s water) copes with them as best he can.

Washington looks impressive and he has undoubted charisma, like Malcolm X himself, but he’s stuck in a huge, flipside national epic that lumbers on through the decades, continents and events for more than three hours.

Perhaps Lee was subdued by the big-budget, by the need for a white audience as well as a black one; perhaps, too, he was overawed by his subject. But this picture, as interesting as it is, fades beside the contentious brilliance of Oliver Stone’s JFK (1991) and Nixon (1996).

Malcolm X
Denzel Washington
Betty Shabazz
Angela Bassett
Albert Hall
Elijah Muhammad
Al Freeman Jr
West Indian Archie
Delroy Lindo
Spike Lee
Theresa Randle
Kate Vernon
Louise Little
Lonette McKee
Earl Little
Tommy Hollis
Brother Earl
James McDaniel
Ernest Thomas
Benjamin 2X
Jean Lamarre
O L Duke
Larry McCoy
Maurice Sneed
Debi Mazar
Phyllis Yvonne Stickney
Scot Anthony Robinson
James E Gaines

Spike Lee