Can the classical biopic be used against itself? Can it mythologize radical, revolutionary, marginal figures?
Bingham tells us to look for the hero as an “the Idol of Production (or Consumption), ... the man who made things great for society...[the] visionaries who made the world better.” (Bingham, 6) But in Malcolm X, I see so many shades of a complex human being: a small boy wanting an education, a teen-ager performing in his zoot suits, a criminal, a figure promoting radical change, a pacifist. Even his name changes: Malcolm Little, Malcolm X, Malik Al-Shabazz? In any of these cases, he is not the classical biopic hero.
I have never really thought of the conventions of the biopic as prescribed by white Hollywood’s standard of who is a major figure and who is not. Nor have I paid close attention to Bingham’s title, Whose Lives Are They Anyway? and why or why not or they filmed. In the case of the usually mythologized hero I look for someone who made things great for society. In this film, I am uncomfortable, for the film jars me again and again with its 400 years of memories of racial discrimination. What is always in the viewers face is who has made life miserable for people transported against their will to America.
This is Spike Lee’s most conventional film. He uses it to document the way black people have been taught to hate themselves.
Malcolm X, is at the very least, an inversion of the goal of a classical biopic in the sense that the life of its hero could have been written into only the margins of history books.
Some pieces in the film stood out for me: the stylization of Malcolm’s mother, finally institutionalized, hiding in the corner of a snow white room; the parody of Malcolm and his friend walking down the streets, decked out, their arms swinging together in rhythm; the spiritual nature of the love interest with Betty Shabazz, the image of Shorty at the door / the faces of policemen behind him / and the phrase “the jigs up”.