The movie starts with a passionate monologue from Malcolm X, which immediately captures the attention and imagination of the audience. The story starts from Malcolm X’s childhood days, when his father was a local leader who believed in Back to Africa theme. His father also used to raise the cause of black women in America, who were sexually abused by white men in the centuries gone by. This is the reason, Malcolm explains, his mother (a mulatto) marries his much darker father, as a way of removing the stain of ‘whiteness’ from the progeny. Despite this, Malcolm’s own early attractions toward white women – the case of Sophia being the most prominent – betray a confusion and lack of conformity with the sentiments of his own family and community. His preference for a straight hair as opposed to the curly African hair was also seen as aping the white man and his features. But soon his father attracts enemies due to his dissident views and is murdered when Malcolm was barely a teenager.
After his father’s death, his mother slowly loses her mind and the children increasingly become delinquent. It is in this backdrop of difficult early life that Malcolm X grows up under government care. He also gets involved in many burglaries and other petty crime. But even under these challenging circumstances, young Malcolm develops a unique and charismatic personality, which is most evident in his penchant for dance to the tunes of jazz music. The well choreographed jazz and dance sequence in the early part of the movie is especially superb. Moreover, the blues background music score throughout the movie is quite haunting – one of the highlights of the film. Another impressive technical feature is the interweaving narrative style, which cuts back and forth between his childhood years and adult years. This technique helps put the theme of racial oppression in historical perspective.
This historically significant film dramatizes the key events and transformations in the life of Malcolm X – the firebrand black leader who would introduce radical religious, cultural and political alternatives to the cause of African American community. While some other prominent leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr envisioned harmonious and equitable co-existence with their white compatriots, Malcolm X’ radical views impinged on separate nationhood for all blacks. Moreover, he advocated a separate religion, namely that of Islam, as a way of identifying with black brotherhood. He also differed from Martin Luther King Jr, in that he did not condemn resort to violence or forceful action if the need arises. This is in sharp contrast to the underlying philosophy of the Civil Rights movement, where African American exhibited non-violent civil disobedience as a way of marking their protest.