Malcolm X (1992) - Rotten Tomatoes

Malcolm X (1992)

TOMATOMETER

AUDIENCE SCORE

Critic 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.

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, Rovimore
Rating: PG-13
Genre: Drama
Directed By:
Written By: Spike Lee, Arnold Perl
In Theaters:
On DVD: Jan 18, 2000
Runtime:
Warner Bros.

Cast

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
Giancarlo Esposito
as Thomas Hayer
Richard Gordon
as Elijah Muhammad's FO...
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 Audubo...
David Patrick Kelly
as Mr. Ostrowski
Shirley Stoler
as Mrs. Swerlin
Ricky Gordon
as Lionel Hampton
Raye Dowell
as Sister Evelyn Willia...
Veronica Webb
as Sister Lucille Rosar...
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 Gr...
TaiNesha Scott
as Elijah Muhammad's Gr...
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)
Ashanti
as Student in Harlem Cl...
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 Muhamm...
Bill Goldberg
as The `John'
Lennis Washington
as Mrs. Johnson
Dyan Humes
as Maid at Open Air Mar...
Lizabeth MacKay
as White Woman in Marke...
Terry Layman
as CIA Agent
Terry Sumter
as CIA Agent
Jasper McGruder
as Hotel Clerk
Mary Alice Smith
as School Teacher
Wyatt T. Walker
as Hospital Spokesperso...
Kyle P. Smith
as Roderick
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 Cen...
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 N...
Mike Hodge
as Follower at Temple N...
Ira Little
as Follower at Temple N...
Ilyasah Shabazz
as Follower at Temple N...
Bahni Turpin
as Follower at Temple N...
Aaron Blackshear
as Student in Harlem Cl...
Nilyne Fields
as Student in Harlem Cl...
John David Washingto...
as Student in Harlem Cl...
Rudi Bascomb
as Student in Harlem Cl...
Muhammad Parks
as Student in Harlem Cl...
Chinere Parry
as Student in Harlem Cl...
Ian Quiles
as Student in Harlem Cl...
Sharmeek Martinez
as Student in Harlem Cl...
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 Bom...
Steve Stapenhorst
as Reporter at Fire Bom...
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 Statio...
William Fichtner
as Cop at Harlem Statio...
Tim Kelleher
as Cop at Harlem Statio...
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'...
Renton Kirk
as DJ at the Harlem `Y'...
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 Playe...
Cleave Guyton Jr.
as Alto Saxophone Playe...
Javon Jackson
as Tenor Saxophone Play...
Lance Bryant
as Tenor Saxophone Play...
Danielle LeMelle
as Baritone Saxophone P...
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 Hardema...
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 Richa...
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 Partn...
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
Richard H. Gordon
as Elijah Muhammad's FO...
Steve White (XXII)
as Brother Johnson
Kyle Smith
as Roderick
Jonathan Peck
as Phone Voice
Steve Randazzo
as TV Reporter
Kiki Della Vecchia
as Teenage Whore
Lizbeth MacKay
as White Woman in Marke...
Walter Emanuel Jones
as Barber's Customer
Nick Turturro
as Boston Cop
Show More Cast

News & Interviews for Malcolm X

Critic Reviews for Malcolm X

All Critics (55) | Top Critics (11)

Spike Lee has made a disappointingly conventional and sluggish film in Malcolm X.

Full Review… | January 6, 2010
Variety
Top Critic

Benefits from a lively lead performance by the miscast Denzel Washington but doesn't come within light years of the book, one of the greatest American autobiographies.

Full Review… | January 6, 2010
Chicago Reader
Top Critic

Lee and company have performed a powerful service: they have brought Malcolm X very much to life again, both as man and myth.

Full Review… | October 18, 2008
Newsweek
Top Critic

Lee sketches Malcolm's life colorfully, if by the numbers. But he falls victim to the danger of movie biography: he elevates Malcolm's importance until the vital historical context is obscured.

Full Review… | September 23, 2008
TIME Magazine
Top Critic

It plays surprisingly safe as a solidly crafted trawl through the didactic/hagiographic conventions of the mainstream biopic.

Full Review… | February 9, 2006
Time Out
Top Critic

An ambitious, tough, seriously considered biographical film that, with honor, eludes easy characterization.

May 20, 2003
New York Times
Top Critic

Audience Reviews for Malcolm X

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.

axadntpron
Reid Volk

Super Reviewer

I was expecting an interesting biographical tale, but the genuine presentation crushed the possibility of fulfilment of any such expectation. More often than not, it's unnecesarrily loud & slow. It consists more caricatures than characters. The screenplay is ridiculously painful & plain boring, excluding even the benefit of being unintentionally funny. Denzel's performance helps the least. In fact, it's considerably pathetic and fails to come to rescue to provide any relief whatsoever in this journey of catastrophes. I can't find this Spike Lee disaster any recommendable. If you haven't been a victim to it as yet, better spare yourself the miseries of this miserable Malcolm X.

imrealgod
familiar stranger

Super Reviewer

½

Malcolm X is a lot of things: controversial, bold, procedural, and informative. From the audacious opening shot that reimagines and redefines the classic Patton image of the American flag, to the belabored attempt in the end to tie everything together with school childen, this film is defiant and unafraid to stand for its message. It's a spiritually enriching testament to the human capacity for change -- and surely Spike Lee's most universally appealing film. An engrossing mosaic of history, myth and sheer conjecture, this ambitious epic manages to sustain itself for 3 hours 21 minutes, and also overcomes an early frivolity of tone and Lee's intrusiveness to achieve a stature befitting its subject.

Lee, whose enormous affection for his hero suffuses his work, nevertheless resists the temptation to sanitize Malcolm as Richard Attenborough did Gandhi. The civil rights leader, as eloquently portrayed by Denzel Washington, emerges as an immensely likable human being -- a onetime black separatist who overcame his own prejudices. Still, this biopic will ruffle a few white feathers -- and probably a few black ones too; that's a given -- but Malcolm X addresses itself to all Americans, reminding us none too gently with its opening footage of the Rodney King beating that the work is never done.

Though the film covers 40 of the most turbulent years American society, it seems oddly isolated from its time and place, almost as if the characters were trapped in a snow globe. This segregation may be purposeful, even astute, on Lee's part, but it denies Malcolm his historical underpinnings. And there's a theatricality to the crowd and street scenes that give the film the look of a Broadway play.

Lee brings all manner of styles and moods to the film's four chapters -- Malcolm's troubled youth, his conversion to Islam, his ministry and his pilgrimage to Mecca. It's Washington's formidable task to pull all of them all together, to reconcile the disparate Malcolms, which he does with uncanny ease. To make sense of the internal struggle, it's essential to know the tragedies of Malcolm's childhood, as recounted here in the Lee screenplay based on Alex Haley's "The Autobiography of Malcolm X."

The result is utterly engrossing. Denzel, in what may be the finest performance of his career (this is the film to show people who doubt his versatility), imbues Malcolm X with fire, bravado, intellect, insecurity, pride, and love (both misplaced and direct) in equal measure. Lee once said that, in film school, making a film adaptation of Malcom X's life was a dream project. The pure, unfettered passion goes into every frame, and the result is one of the most fascinating and nuanced biopics ever made. A complex film about a complex man.

JonathanHutchings
Jonathan Hutchings

Super Reviewer

Malcolm X Quotes

Malcolm X: You are not an American, you are the victim of America!
– Submitted by Alex K (3 years ago)
Malcolm X: I will not touch the white man's poison; his drugs, his liquor, his swine, his women.
– Submitted by Alex K (3 years ago)
Malcolm X: The only thing I like integrated is my coffee.
– Submitted by Alex K (3 years ago)
DJ at the Harlem "Y" Dance: I'm not fearing any man!
– Submitted by Jesse K (3 years ago)

Discussion Forum

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