Malcolm X


Malcolm X

Critics Consensus

Anchored by a powerful performance from Denzel Washington, Spike Lee's biopic of the legendary civil rights leader brings his autobiography to life with an epic sweep and a nuanced message.



Total Count: 57


Audience Score

User Ratings: 56,834
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Movie Info

Writer-director Spike Lee's epic portrayal of the life and times of the slain civil rights leader Malcolm X begins with the cross-cut imagery of the police beating of black motorist Rodney King juxtaposed with an American flag burning into the shape of the letter X. When the film's narrative begins moments later, it jumps back to World War II-era Boston, where Malcolm Little (Denzel Washington) is making his living as a hustler. The son of a Baptist preacher who was murdered by the Ku Klux Klan, Little was raised by foster parents after his mother was deemed clinically insane; as an adult, he turned to a life of crime, which leads to his imprisonment on burglary charges. In jail, Little receives epiphany in the form of an introduction to Islam; he is especially taken with the lessons of Elijah Mohammed, who comes to him in a vision. Adopting the name 'Malcolm X' as a rejection of the 'Little' surname (given his family by white slave owners), he meets the real Elijah Mohammed (Al Freeman, Jr.) upon exiting prison, and begins work as a spokesman for the Nation of Islam. Marriage to a Muslim nurse named Betty Shabazz (Angela Bassett) follows, after which X spearheads a well-attended march on a Harlem hospital housing a Muslim recovering from an episode of police brutality. The march's success helps elevate X to the position of Islam's national spokesperson. There is dissension in the ranks, however, and soon X is targeted for assassination by other Nation leaders; even Elijah Mohammed fears Malcolm's growing influence. After getting wind of the murder plot, X leaves the Nation of Islam, embarking on a pilgrimage to Mecca that proves revelatory; renouncing his separatist beliefs, his oratories begin embracing all races and cultures. During a 1965 speech, Malcolm X is shot and killed, reportedly by Nation of Islam members. ~ Jason Ankeny, Rovi

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Angela Bassett
as Dr. Betty Shabazz
Al Freeman Jr.
as Elijah Muhammad
Spike Lee
as Shorty
Lonette McKee
as Louise Little
Tommy Hollis
as Earl Little
James McDaniel
as Brother Earl
Maurice Sneed
as Cadillac
Joe Seneca
as Toomer
Wendell Pierce
as Ben Thomas
Michael Guess
as William X
Leland Gantt
as Wilbur Kinley
Richard Gordon
as Elijah Muhammad's FOI
Giancarlo Esposito
as Thomas Hayer
Leonard Thomas
as Leon Davis
Craig Wasson
as TV Host
Graham Brown
as Dr. Payson
Gerica Cox
as Eva Marie
Aleta Mitchell
as Sister Robin
Curt Williams
as Mr. Cooper
John Reidy
as Simmons
Frances Foster
as Woman Outside Audubon Ballroom
David Patrick Kelly
as Mr. Ostrowski
Shirley Stoler
as Mrs. Swerlin
Ricky Gordon
as Lionel Hampton
Raye Dowell
as Sister Evelyn Williams
Veronica Webb
as Sister Lucille Rosary
Keith Smith
as Brother Gene
George Guidall
as Mr. Holway
James L. Swain
as Conductor
Steve White
as Brother Johnson
K. Smith
as Roderick
Christopher Rubin
as Sophia's Husband
Matthew Scott Harris
as Malcolm (age 5)
Zakee Howze
as young Malcolm
Cytia Fontenette
as Hilda (age 3)
Marlaine Bass
as Hilda (age 8)
Benjamin Atwell
as Philbert (age 1)
Peter Dunn
as Philbert (age 6)
Dion Smack Jr.
as Reginald (age 2)
Darnell Smith
as Elijah Muhammad's Grandson
TaiNesha Scott
as Elijah Muhammad's Granddaughter
Chelsea Counts
as Yvonne (age 6 Months)
Chela Counts
as Yvonne (age 6 Months)
Natalie Clanton
as Yvonne (age 1)
LaToyah Bigelow
as Quibillah (age 3)
as Student in Harlem Classroom (uncredited)
Martaleah Jackson
as Ilyasah (age 2-3)
Tamaraleah Jackson
as Ilyasah (age 2-3)
Jasmine Smith
as Ilyasah (age 2-3)
Valentino Smith
as Wilfred (age 4)
David Thomas Jr.
as Wilfred-Age 8
Simon Do-Ley
as Son of Elijah Muhammad and Secretary Evelyn Willia
Bill Goldberg
as The `John'
Lennis Washington
as Mrs. Johnson
Dyan Humes
as Maid at Open Air Market
Lizabeth MacKay
as White Woman in Market
Terry Layman
as CIA Agent
Terry Sumter
as CIA Agent
Jasper McGruder
as Hotel Clerk
Mary Alice Smith
as School Teacher
Kyle P. Smith
as Roderick
Wyatt T. Walker
as Hospital Spokesperson
Hazel Medina
as Cashier Person
Wendy E. Taylor
as Numbers Woman
Ed Herlihy
as Joe Louis Announcer
Ralph Sr. Cooper
as Radio Announcer
Nelson Mandela
as Soweto Teacher
Karen Duffy
as Sophia's Friend
Walter Jones
as Barber's Customer
Marc Phillips
as Photographer
Showman Uneke
as Hustler at Grand Central Station
Theara Ward
as Movie Goer
Larry Cherry
as Prison Barber
Vincent Moscaritola
as Prison Guard
Larry Attile
as Guard Baines
Brendan Kelly
as Guard Cone
John Griesemer
as Guard Wilkins
Kent Jackman
as 2nd Man
Beatrice Winde
as Elderly Woman
Rion Johnson
as Shoeshine Boy
Charles Weldon
as Follower at Temple Number 7
Mike Hodge
as Follower at Temple Number 7
Ira Little
as Follower at Temple Number 7
Ilyasah Shabazz
as Follower at Temple Number 7
Bahni Turpin
as Follower at Temple Number 7
Aaron Blackshear
as Student in Harlem Classroom
Nilyne Fields
as Student in Harlem Classroom
John David Washington
as Student in Harlem Classroom
Rudi Bascomb
as Student in Harlem Classroom
Muhammad Parks
as Student in Harlem Classroom
Chinere Parry
as Student in Harlem Classroom
Ian Quiles
as Student in Harlem Classroom
Sharmeek Martinez
as Student in Harlem Classroom
Chuck Cooper
as Customer
Sam Dixon
as Customer
Barbara Smith
as Customer
Rome Neal
as Prisoner
Earl Whitted
as Prisoner
Addison Cook
as Prisoner
Byron Utley
as Prisoner
Eric Swirsly
as Prisoner
Stewart J. Zully
as TV Reporter
Colleen Cowan
as TV Reporter
Armand Schultz
as TV Reporter
Reade Kelly
as TV Reporter
Janet Zarish
as TV Reporter
Annie Corley
as TV Reporter
Stephen James
as TV Reporter
Steven Randazzo
as TV Reporter
Christopher Skutch
as TV Reporter
William Swinton
as TV Reporter
Marcus Naylor
as TV Reporter
Anthony Nocerino
as TV Reporter
Gareth Williams
as JFK Reporter
Stephen Mo Hanan
as JFK Reporter
Richard Schiff
as JFK Reporter
David Berman
as JFK Reporter
Michael Imperioli
as Reporter at Fire Bombing
Steve Stapenhorst
as Reporter at Fire Bombing
Arthur French
as Pullman Porter
Lex Monson
as Pullman Porter
Judd Jones
as Pullman Porter
C.E. Smith
as Fountain Waiter
Delilah Picart
as Crowd Member
Michael Ralph
as Crowd Member
Teresa Yvon Farley
as Young Hooker
John Sayles
as FBI Agent
Martin Donovan
as FBI Agent
Jay Charbonneau
as Cop at Audobon
Joe Pentangelo
as Mounted Police
Mike Farley
as Mounted Police
Nick Muglia
as Mounted Police
David Reilly
as Mounted Police
James Murtaugh
as Cop at Harlem Station
William Fichtner
as Cop at Harlem Station
Tim Kelleher
as Cop at Harlem Station
Michael Cullen
as Desk Sergeant
James MacDonald
as Lieutenant
Steve Aronson
as Black Legion Leader
Bill Anagnos
as Black Legion Member
Don Hewitt Sr.
as Black Legion Member
Jery Hewitt
as Black Legion Member
Joe Fitos
as KKK Member
Manny Siverio
as KKK Member
Jack McLaughlin
as KKK Member
Shaun O'Neil
as KKK Member
Andy Duppin
as KKK Member
Matt Dillon
as DJ at the Harlem `Y' Dance
Renton Kirk
as DJ at the Harlem `Y' Dance
Tim Hutchinson
as Fruit of Islam
Andre Blair
as Fruit of Islam
Abdul Kakeem Hijrah
as Fruit of Islam
Rony Clanton
as Fruit of Islam
Scott Whitehurst
as Malcolm's FOI
Eric Payne
as Malcolm's FOI
Ali Abdul Wahbah
as Malcolm's FOI
Terry Hodges
as Malcolm's FOI
Kevan Gibbs
as Malcolm's FOI
Dana Hubbard
as Malcolm's FOI
David Reivers
as Elijah Muhamad's FOI
Robert Jason
as Elijah Muhamad's FOI
Kevin Rock
as Elijah Muhamad's FOI
Mansoor Najeeullah
as Elijah Muhamad's FOI
Dion Graham
as Elijah Muhamad's FOI
Zaahir Muhammad
as Elijah Muhamad's FOI
Gregory Bargeman
as Elijah Muhamad's FOI
Lee Summers
as Elijah Muhamad's FOI
Rich Gordon
as Elijah Muhamad's FOI
Larry Rushing
as Elijah Muhamad's FOI
Monty Ross
as MC/Roseland
Eddie Davis
as Trumpet Player
Reggie Pittman
as Trumpet Player
Patrick Rickman
as Trumpet Player
Gerald Brazel
as Trumpet Player
Clark Gaton
as Trombone Player
Richard Owens
as Trombone Player
Douglas Purviance
as Trombone Player
Mark Gross
as Alto Saxophone Player
Cleave Guyton Jr.
as Alto Saxophone Player
Javon Jackson
as Tenor Saxophone Player
Lance Bryant
as Tenor Saxophone Player
Danielle LeMelle
as Baritone Saxophone Player
David Fludd
as Piano Player
Marcus Lauper
as Bass Player
Preston Vismale
as Music Assistant
Miki Howard
as Billie Holiday
Terence Blanchard
as Trumpet Plyer
Bruce David Barth
as Piano Player
Rodney Whitaker
as Bass Player
Sonny Allen
as Roseland Dancer
Vanessa Benton
as Roseland Dancer
Cheryl Burr
as Roseland Dancer
Leslie Dockery
as Roseland Dancer
Cisco Drayton
as Roseland Dancer
Byron Easley
as Roseland Dancer
John Elejalde
as Roseland Dancer
Debra Elkins
as Roseland Dancer
Gina Ellis
as Roseland Dancer
Sharon Ferguson
as Roseland Dancer
John Festa
as Roseland Dancer
Robert H. Fowler III
as Roseland Dancer
Ryan Francois
as Roseland Dancer
Phillip Gilmore
as Roseland Dancer
Jauquette Greene
as Roseland Dancer
Wendy King
as Roseland Dancer
Jerome Jamal Hardeman
as Roseland Dancer
Dawn Hampton
as Roseland Dancer
Monique Harcum
as Roseland Dancer
Raymond Harris
as Roseland Dancer
Delphine T. Mantz
as Roseland Dancer
Bernard Marsh
as Roseland Dancer
Greta Martin
as Roseland Dancer
Norma Miller
as Roseland Dancer
Frances Morgan
as Roseland Dancer
John Parks
as Roseland Dancer
Greg Poland
as Roseland Dancer
Judine Hawkins Richard
as Roseland Dancer
Eartha Robinson
as Roseland Dancer
Michelle Robinson
as Roseland Dancer
Traci Robinson
as Roseland Dancer
Ken Leigh Rogers
as Roseland Dancer
Eddie Sanabria
as Roseland Dancer
Eddie J. Shellman
as Roseland Dancer
Lynn Sterling
as Roseland Dancer
Keith Thomas
as Roseland Dancer
Debbie Williams
as Roseland Dancer
Charles F. Young
as Roseland Dancer
Anthony Dewitt
as Roseland Dancer
Cynthia Thomas
as Shorty's Dance Partner
Sharon Brooks
as Skeleton Crew Dancer
Laurieann Gibson
as Skeleton Crew Dancer
El Tahara Ibrahim
as Skeleton Crew Dancer
Keith Lewis
as Skeleton Crew Dancer
Dereque Whithurs
as Skeleton Crew Dancer
Steve Reed
as John F. Kennedy
Jodie Farber
as Jackie Kennedy
Randy Means
as Governor Connally
Columbia DuBose
as Nellie Connally
Vincent D'Onofrio
as Bill Newman
Cliff Cudney
as Limo Driver
George Marshall Ruge
as Secret Service Man
Bobby Seale
as 1st Speaker
Al Sharpton
as 2nd Speaker
Christopher Plummer
as Chaplain Gill
Karen Allen
as Miss Dunne
Peter Boyle
as Captain Green
Ossie Davis
as Eulogy Performer
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News & Interviews for Malcolm X

Critic Reviews for Malcolm X

All Critics (57) | Top Critics (12) | Fresh (50) | Rotten (7)

Audience Reviews for Malcolm X

  • Feb 22, 2016
    I have no idea why Denzel Washington didn't get an award for his performance here. A superb movie from Spike Lee that makes you think about the revered civil rights leader. A superb biopic.
    Ian W Super Reviewer
  • Jun 04, 2012
    Now that is how you make a biopic. Spike Lee's monument to one of the most controversial figures in American history is bold, comprehensive, & unflinching. Lee uses X's autobiography, penned by Alex Haley, as the source material. While this renders the film an easy target for critics who want a more objective look at this historical figure, I believe Lee, walking in step with the subject of the film, smartly becomes the provocateur. Malcolm X was not an easy figure to wrap your head around. With seemingly equal capacity for both love and vitriol, a film that tried to focus on one facet of his personality, while consequently ignoring the many other ones that made this man so enigmatic, would feel dishonest. Lets face it, this film was bound to rustle some feathers, and I think it was a smart move to let the man speak for himself. And how could you review the film without mentioning the great Denzel? How he manages to pull off such a complex character with such ease is absolutely stunning. That he lost the Oscar to Pacino is still one of the most egregious crimes the academy has ever committed. While Lee's career may be wading in troubled water as of now, Malcolm X gives me hope that he will soon rebound.
    Reid V Super Reviewer
  • Feb 28, 2012
    Malcolm X was interesting, but way too long. At a certain point, I just tuned out. Fortunately, Denzel Washington was amazing and his acting along kept me somewhat involved.
    Sam E Super Reviewer
  • Feb 18, 2012
    I find it ironic that Denzel Washington is playing who is possibly the most iconic anti-integration black man in history, and next to Will Smith, he's the whitest black man in film, but hey, that only makes the film deeper and more provocative. Almost three-and-a-half hours, it better be provocative. After this, I better want to get plastic surgery to look black and then actually join the Black Panthers, which seems pretty possible, considering that by the time you finish watching this film, the universe will have already collapsed, reset and progressed to the A.D. 1960s again. I love how I'm griping about this film being so long, and it's only - no joke - the [b]"eleventh"[/b] longest film I've ever seen. Holy cow, I need some kind of a life, even if it can't be anything as extravagant as Malcolm X's life. Well, to be fair, Forrest Gump's life wasn't as eventful as Malcolm X's, partially because Gump was just some dumb guy that got caught up in some cool stuff, whereas Malcolm X was black "and" muslim, two people that were doing all kinds of crazy stuff between the '40s and '60s, so one can only imagine what you get when you cross them together. I guess you could say that if you crossed a black and a muslim, you would get "Malcolm Little in the Middle", and by extension, the inspiration for a pretty good film, which isn't to say that this film doesn't fall into one too many missteps here and there. I'm not gonna say that Malcolm X's life is underwhelming, but I'm not quite sure that the "short" version should be 200 minutes. Well, sure enough, although most of the film is tight, when it goes loose, it falls out, and you with it, because after a while, watching a bunch of black people dancing at a night club get unengaging enough, let alone when you're actually trying to tell a story so much that it eventually loses steam. Of course, what does more to damage this film isn't the looseness, but the tightness, as well as the style. The overstylized storytelling is at its worst during the flashbacks to Little's childhood, where things feel so devoid of genuineness, due to everything feeling so tacked-on and overwhelmed with histrionic energy, especially when it comes to the unbelievably overbearing score. Still, just because that's where the overstylizing is at its most intense, that doesn't mean that overstylizing doesn't plage much of the film, because there are countless moments of "Wait what was that?" or "Wow, that just came and went", and sure, it's not like a meditative film, where overstylizing taints the film's very aura and leaves it to limp along, almost entirely devoid of substance, but there are still too many moments theatrics, and it really intensifies the impact of the final blow that keeps this film from being truly impressive: Spike Lee's underwhelming execution. The film is well-produced, runs a mammoth length and is with a story so worth telling it's unreal, and the latter fact is one known too much by Spike Lee, so much so that even with all of the forced theatrics, he only wants to "tell" the story of Malcolm X, rather than revive it, which isn't to say that this film is totally vacant of emotion, but it is to say that the story structure is too conventional and safe to the point of being messy, leaving every transition in between arcs in Little's life - from his criminal life, his conversion to Muslim and, of course, his leadership of the Black Panthers - to feel inorganic and somewhat inconsistent, because Lee is so desperate to keep Little's story as faithful as possible that he forgets to truly captivate his audience, leaving the film to run on only so much juice. However, the film is nowhere near bad, for although Spike Lee's dream project is all but ruined by his dreaming just a little too big, it's still a fascinating story of a man's entire mindset changing as he goes from being a following nobody to a leading icon, and while it stands to be executed better, it's still an experience worth having, especially considering that, as I said, it's pretty darn well-produced. What makes the production designs so impressive is the fact that they are subtle, being elaborate enough for you to really see the time, yet pulled back enough for you to feel the time. There's no overemphasis on the '40s or '50s or '60s, let alone the transitions into all of them, yet they're reconstructed so fashionably, keeping you engaged in the time without it feeling as though it's interrupting the story, only supplementing it. The same can be said about the cinematography, which is subtle and graceful. True, early on, the overemphasis on lighting got to be a bit annoying, but on the whole, the cast of a shadow or a beam of light is played upon subtley, but noticably, and it really supplements the tone on many occasions. I must say that I absolutely dug such scenes as the prison solitary confinement sequence, which is illuminated only by what limited light is salvaged through the feeding doors, and it gives you such a perfect sense of isolation and claustrophbia that strongly reflects and symbolizes the anguish and pain that is falling upon the shoulders of Little, not just in that moment, but many others, which isn't to say that cinematographer Ernest Dickerson is the only one carrying scenes like that, because the real star of this show is, of course, Mr. Denzel Washington. Perhaps they could have done a better casting job for the sake of physcial authenticity, but when it comes to embodying such a layered soul as Mr. Malcolm, few people could do as good of a job as the great Denzel Washington, and sure enough, the atmosphere that Washington emits is powerful, whether he's portraying a hardcore criminal like Detroit Red, a searching soul like El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz or an influential leader like Malcolm X. Spike Lee's heart may be too much in the story for him to really deliver on it, but Washington is layered and riveting in his portrayal of this follower-turned-leader, and it's that portrayal, all but by itself, that makes this film consistently fascinating, compelling, borderline enthralling and genuinely worth watching, because for every occasion of momentary disconnect, it's hard to not find yourself quickly and frequently pulled back in by the subtlety, grace and transformation in Denzel Washington as he brings the iconic Malcolm X back to life. At the end of the day... or second, or third, or how ever many days it takes you to watch this film, it's hard not to feel a touch thrown-off by moments of overstylizing and looseness, but generally a bit disappointed by Spike Lee's overly conventional, overly safe, periodically inconsistent and ultimately underwhelming storytelling, but what keeps this film an ultimately rewarding one in spite of its flaws is, of course, it's compelling subject matter that is brought to life by subtlety and grace in the production, visual style, but most of all, Denzel Washington, who's layered, transformative and enthralling portrayal of this icon helps perhaps most of all in making "Malcolm X" a frequently and genuinely fascinating and enjoyable study on the life and times of the legendary Mr. Malcolm "El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz"/"Detroit Red"/"X" Little. Jeez, how many names did he have? 3/5 - Good
    Cameron J Super Reviewer

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