The life of Malcolm X has inspired countless people, including such movie directors as Spike Lee and Regina King, who memorably depicted the civil rights activist in their films Malcolm X and One Night in Miami. Now, Malcolm’s own daughter, Ilyasah Shabazz, will ensure his legacy continues with a Sony/TriStar television series based on the books X: A Novel and The Awakening of Malcolm X, both of which she co-wrote.
Variety reports that Shabazz is executive producing this new Malcolm X series for Sony Pictures Television’s TriStar. The outlet notes that it will draw from X: A Novel and the newer 2021 book, The Awakening of Malcolm X, which Shabazz penned with authors Kekla Magoon and Tiffany D. Jackson, respectively. Descriptions for the two books are as follows:
“X: A Novel” follows Malcolm’s life from his childhood — including his father being lynched and his mother being institutionalized against her will — up to his imprisonment at age twenty. “The Awakening of Malcolm X” picks up during his time in prison when he decided to join the Nation of Islam, ultimately emerging from incarceration as Malcolm X.
The Legacy of Malcolm X in the Real World and on Film
History books and the public school system haven’t always given Malcolm X his full due, preferring instead to focus on Martin Luther King, Jr., as the face of the civil rights movement in the 1960s. Lee’s 1992 biopic alludes to this during its concluding voiceover, where Ossie Davis says that there are those who have sought to write Malcolm “out of the history of our turbulent times” (much like how the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival was, until just recently, all but written out of music history).
It’s King who has his own national holiday and it’s King who probably has more boulevards named after him in cities across America. By contrast, the powers that be have sometimes chosen to characterize Malcolm X as more of a radical. Comic book fans — in their endless discussions of the X-Men as civil rights metaphors — have often likened the peaceful Professor X to King and the more hardline mutant Magneto to Malcolm X.
Think about that for a second. Malcolm X is not some supervillain, and the fact that people would make those kinds of comparisons with such casual frequency is troubling.
Now, granted, maybe I just wasn’t paying enough attention in American history class; but personally, my first memory of really learning about Malcolm X in kind doesn’t come from the pages of a musty old textbook. It comes from Lee’s film, which starred Denzel Washington in an Oscar-nominated performance, and which showed how Malcolm was in the midst of softening his rhetoric even as his assassins closed in on him.
Double-Feature This: Malcolm X and One Night in Miami
In Malcolm X, after leaving the Nation of Islam, Malcolm makes the Haji, or pilgrimage to Mecca, where he meets and feels a kinship with other Muslims of all skin colors, including some with blonde hair and blue eyes. “I no longer subscribe,” we hear him say, “to sweeping indictments of one race.”
Toward the end of the film, after one attempt on his life has already been made, it shows Malcolm alone in a hotel room. He’s on the phone with his wife, Betty Shabazz (Angela Bassett plays Ilyasah’s real-life mother). The camera pans across the room to show where the FBI has planted a bug inside the lampshade. Two agents are listening in. Alluding to King’s infidelities (which Ava Duvernay gently addressed in Selma), one agent says, “Compared to King, this guy’s a monk.”
More recently, we’ve seen Kingsley Ben-Adir give an affecting turn as Malcolm X in One Night in Miami on Amazon Prime. That film crescendos in the same Sam Cooke song that Lee used, “A Change Is Gonna Come.” Leslie Odom Jr. plays Cooke; this year’s Oscars threw a Best Supporting nomination his way, though the film around him, based on a Kemp Powers stage play, was snubbed in any other categories besides Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Original Song.
It’s been over half a century now since Malcolm X’s assassination. Yet as the events of 2020 and 2021 have shown, America is still grappling with many of the same social problems that he spoke of in his time on this earth. Whether it be the George Floyd protests that swept the nation last summer, or the storming of the U.S. Capitol, which rocked Washington D.C. this January, there are some old wounds that have never healed wrapped up in the fabric of American society.
During this time, the legacy of Malcolm X feels more important than ever. We’ll be keeping our eye on this upcoming television series from his daughter, and in the meantime, Malcolm X and One Night in Miami make for a great double feature.
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