Spike Lee's film Malcolm X brings the words of the slain civil rights leader, as they were told to Alex Haley and published as The Autobiography of Malcolm X, to life on the big screen.The film follows the life of Malcolm X Shabazz, born Malcolm Little on May 19th, 1925, in Omaha, Nebraska, from his nightmarish early childhood throughout his criminal career, his subsequent transformation and rebirth as a Muslim man of faith, and ultimately his role as one of the most charismatic and influential leaders of the Black liberation movement. The first part of the film finds young Malcolm and his seven siblings living amongst terror and violence because of their father's outspoken preaching. Malcolm's earliest memories are of his home burning and learning of his father's murder (later determined suicide by the insurance company), all at the hands of the white supremacist group known as the Black Legion.The mental deterioration of his mother followed, leaving Malcolm and some of his siblings in the inadequate care of the state social services of Michigan, where the family eventually relocated. "I truly believe that if ever a state social agency destroyed a family, it destroyed ours," states Malcolm (played by Denzel Washington in an Academy Award- nominated performance.) As Malcolm matures into an intelligent and likable young adult, he finds himself exposed to the black neighborhoods of Roxbury and the urban landscape of Boston.This profoundly changes his life, and we find him a street-smart hustler, stylin' in his zoot suit alongside his partner in crime, Shorty (played by Spike Lee).Through various jobs and hustles, Malcolm finds himself in the Harlem section of New York City, where he falls in love with the sophistication of the Black community as well as the various opportunities to hustle a living and enjoy the night life. Malcolm's transgressions eventually land him in prison on an eight-year stretch for armed robbery (along with Shorty).
It is in prison where he is transformed from a violent, drug-addicted criminal to a faithful follower of the Muslim religion and its leader, Elijah Muhammad. Malcolm joins the Nation of Islam, an Afro-centric branch of Islam that advocates race liberation and separation, and becomes one of its most captivating and powerful spokesmen. The film then follows Malcolm's further metamorphosis upon his return from a pilgrimage to Mecca as his views change, and he shifts further from the separatist edicts of the Nation of Islam. The following rift that forms between Malcolm X and the Nation becomes disturbingly bitter. The film ends as Malcolm is cut down by assassins delivering an address in New York City on February 21st, 1965.