In 1992, Spike Lee presented his film “Malcolm X,” which describes the life of the leader and thinker who was one of the most prominent members of the African-American community in the twentieth century. Spike Lee was exposed to the “autobiography” of Malcolm X as written by the renowned author Alex Haley and published immediately after the assassination of Malcolm X in 1965. This is one of the canonical Black American autobiographies, and although it was not written by Malcolm X, it is nevertheless recognized as an autobiography.
Alex Haley, a Republican journalist and writer, described the life of the radical Black American leader Malcolm X on the basis of his protracted dialogue with the leader during his latter years. In examining Spike Lee’s film on the character of Malcolm X, we must isolate the manner in which Spike Lee and the author of the autobiography, Alex Haley, “read” the story of Malcolm X. Moreover, even Malcolm X himself perceived his life in different ways, and created different self images that evolved during the writing of the autobiography, and particularly after he left the Nation of Islam movement on (March 1964).
Spike Lee began his career in the independent Black cinema. He secured global recognition for five films he wrote and directed, and in which he appeared as an actor, prior to “Malcolm X.” In 1991, after a protracted struggle, he finally secured the right to direct the epic cinematographic biography of Malcolm X, receiving some $ 33 million from Warner Brothers and other production companies. Through his production company 40 Acres and a Mule, Spike Lee wrote, directed, and enjoyed exclusive control of the first Hollywood adaptation of the life of a radical African-American leader produced on such a large scale. During the course of the production, Spike Lee leveled charges of racism against White Hollywood. I examined these charges not only with regard to Hollywood, but also in the other spheres of knowledge in which Lee was involved. For example, I sought to examine how the expropriation of the character of Malcolm X by Lee was received in the Black community. A further example shows how Lee fought for control against White cinematographers, using the character of Malcolm X as cultural capital. The transition of the character of Malcolm X to the Hollywood screen created a new complexity, featuring, on the one hand, the professionalism of the Hollywood industry and the manner in which it creates broad cinematic history; and, on the other – the radical theme examined by Spike Lee, which was (and still is) sometimes opposed to the liberal White vision of Hollywood.