Black History Month

5 Memorable Times The Life Of Malcolm X Was Brought To The Screen

Remembering the civil rights icon on the 53rd anniversary of his death.

With Black Panther's recent box office success inspiring people around the globe, the conversation has been about the resurgence of Black superheroes in media. However, we mustn't forget the heroes that we've been lucky enough to have in real life. One such hero is civil rights icon and thought leader Malcolm X, whose fiery brand of protest earned him a place in history books as a leader and pioneer. His complicated life story, however, has proven to be a subject that has inspired many to document his life and times, especially those in the world of film. With such a rich and complex life to draw from, it's no wonder that he has been portrayed several times in film throughout the years. On the 53rd anniversary of his untimely passing, we offer a few of the instances in which Malcolm X's life was memorably immortalized on the screen.

Recommended

"Malcolm X" (1992)

Perhaps the best-known portrayal of the leader, 1992's Malcolm X told his story from his childhood beginnings to his tragic death in 1965. The Spike Lee-directed film starred Academy Award-winner Denzel Washington as the titular civil rights hero in perhaps one of the most defining performances of his career, earning him a Best Actor nomination at the Oscars in 1993. The film also featured dynamic performances from Angela Bassett (who played X's wife, Betty Shabazz) and Spike Lee himself, who played the late icon's best friend Shorty.

Get Malcolm X on Amazon.

"Death of a Prophet" (1981)

One of the earliest film portrayals of Malcolm X was in the 1981 TV movie Death of a Prophet. Starring Morgan Freeman, the movie chronicled the last 24 hours of X's life. The film, however, wasn't strictly a dramatization as it also offered newsreel footage and interviews with other luminaries who knew Malcolm well.

Watch Death of a Prophet on Amazon Prime.

"Selma" (2015)

Ava DuVernay's 2015 film Selma tells the story of the 1965 Selma to Montgomery voting rights marches and focuses largely on the story of Martin Luther King Jr. The film also takes the time to present a characterization of Malcolm X (played by Nigel Thatch), who meets with Coretta Scott King after leaving the Nation of Islam and offers aid in the march by driving Whites to ally with the marchers by conveying a more extreme position. Though his screen time in the film is limited, it paints a slightly different side of the leader.

Get Selma on Amazon.

"Ali" (2001)

Unbeknownst to some, Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X enjoyed a friendship at one point. In Ali, the Will Smith-starring biopic about the famed boxer, their relationship is explored. The film shows how Ali turns his back on his one-time mentor (portrayed by Mario Van Peebles) during a chance meeting in Africa after Malcolm left the Nation of Islam amid a quarrel with then-leader Elijah Muhammad — something that the boxer later admitted to regretting.  

Get Ali on Amazon.

"Betty & Coretta" (2013)

The 2013 Lifetime movie Betty & Coretta, starring Mary J. Blige as Betty Shabazz and Angela Bassett as Coretta Scott Kingfocused more on the titular widows than their slain husbands. However, their presences still loomed strong over the made-for-TV film. Malcolm's portrayal by actor Lindsay Owen Pierre lent an intense quality to the characterization while also showing tender moments between him and Betty that added depth and nuance. 

Get Betty & Coretta on Amazon.

Cover image: aradaphotography / Shutterstock.com

More From A Plus

GET SOME POSITIVITY IN YOUR INBOX

Subscribe to our newsletter and get the latest news and exclusive updates.