Ninety-one years ago, near the geographic center of the United States and at the midway mark of the Roaring Twenties, an extraordinary leader came to life. He was born Malcolm Little in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1925; died Malcolm X in New York City in 1965. In between, and more than once, he revolutionized his own perspective and that of an entire generation of Black Americans. The phrase “by any means necessary” may not be as universally recognized as “I have a dream,” but it has become a cornerstone of radical politics worldwide. For the perennial timeliness of his teachings and their influence on African American thought — especially in the current era of Black Lives Matter — we dedicate this special NBPC birthday salute to Brother Malcolm.
Here are a few noteworthy public media tributes to his legacy:
Malcolm X: Make It Plain (1994)
In this clip from Make It Plain, actor and activist Ossie Davis delivers the eulogy he wrote for Malcolm X’s funeral:
Produced and directed by Orlando Bagwell (3 ½ Minutes, 10 Bullets; Eyes on the Prize) and co-funded by NBPC, Make It Plain premiered on PBS’s American Experience four decades after Malcolm’s murder. Alfre Woodard gives voice to this documentary, which includes interviews with Ossie Davis, Maya Angelou, John Henrik Clarke and Betty Shabazz and is perhaps the most definitive doc to date about Malcolm X’s life. If you’re looking for an in-depth character study — outside the pages of Alex Haley or Manning Marable — Make It Plain comes highly recommended.
Eyes on the Prize (1987-1990)
A preview from WORLD Channel’s recent re-broadcast of Episode 7, “The Time Has Come”:
Co-funded by NBPC, producer Henry Hampton’s groundbreaking series on the American Civil Rights Movement provides comprehensive context for the years when Malcolm X’s message first took root. In particular, Episode 7,“The Time Has Come (1964-66),” chronicles his rise as spokesman for the Nation of Islam, his eventual break with the organization and the impact of his philosophy of Black pride and self-defense upon SNCC, Stokely Carmichael and the Black Power Movement. As Carmichael puts it, “The closer they looked at Malcolm X, the quicker they got hooked on Malcolm X.”
All fourteen episodes are well worth watching — but if you have to choose, go with “The Time Has Come” (directed by James DeVinney and Madison Lacy).
Bobby Seale on Malcolm X (1974)
As part of the long-running Say Brother series (now called Basic Black) — a public affairs TV show by, about and for African Americans — WGBH-TV aired this 1974 interview with Black Panther Bobby Seale. Seale leaves his audience in no doubt about Malcolm X’s profound, though posthumous, effect on the creation of the Black Panther Party.
Jackie Robinson (2016)
A clip from the Malcolm X segment of Ken Burns’ Jackie Robinson:
Malcolm’s ideology made a lasting impression even among his opponents. Baseball pioneer Jackie Robinson — who called Malcolm X a “blot” on the landscape of 1960s race politics, while Malcolm fired back that Robinson was subservient to wealthy white people — was also known to quote X in his own speeches advocating Black entrepreneurship. Ken Burns’ new epic Jackie Robinson, which aired on PBS last month, addressed the dynamics of Robinson and X’s public exchange.
Seven Songs for Malcolm X (1993)
In 1993, Seven Songs for Malcolm X received the NBPC Prize Pieces Awards for Best Historical Documentary and Audience Special Merit. Directed by John Akomfrah and produced by the Black Audio Film Collective, this portrait of the legendary civil rights leader explores the whole of his life and career in seven segments, featuring a powerful patchwork of testimony (from legal scholar Patricia Williams, filmmaker Spike Lee, attorney William Kunstler and historian Robin Kelley, to name a few), archival materials, autobiography excerpts and dramatic reenactments. In terms of pure creativity and emotional punch, this film about the many dimensions of Malcolm is a must-see.
Header Image: Malcolm X, boy and man; photos from Malcolm X: Make It Plain.