This month marks the 20th anniversary of the release of Spike Lee's seminal film, Malcolm X. In commemoration of the film's anniversary, Warner Bros. and Lee are releasing the film on Blu-ray. Lee's 200-minute epic examines the life of one of America's most interesting and complicated figures. Denzel Washington's performance as Malcolm X is quite possibly the best performance of his career and of the 1990s.
Washington's performance is buoyed by an ensemble cast that includes Angela Bassett as Malcolm X's wife Dr. Betty Shabazz, Albert Hall, Al Freeman Jr., Delroy Lindo, Theresa Randle, Kate Vernon, Lonette McKee and, of course, Spike Lee. The virtual who's who in front of the camera is matched behind the scenes, with a cinematic dream team made up of Monty Ross, Jon Kilik and Preston Holmes as producers; Wynn Thomas as production designer; Ernest Dickerson as cinematographer; Barry Alexander Brown as editor; Ruth Carter as costume designer and Terence Blanchard performing the original music score. Carter's costume designs and Washington's performance were the only parts of the film to receive Oscar nominations.
For those who may not understand Lee's significant place in film history in general and black film history in particular, taking on a film like Malcolm X so early in his career speaks to his artistic bravery and commitment to changing the landscape of the Hollywood film industry. Lee employed blacks in front of and behind the camera who may not have otherwise had the opportunity to work at that level in filmmaking at that time.
Lee made films that not only reflected various aspects of black culture, but also placed blackness and black stories on equal footing with dominant Hollywood narratives. Malcolm X was a controversial figure then and is a controversial figure now, as evidenced by the contentious debate surrounding the late Manning Marable's posthumous biography of the man. In his film, Lee has captured what many critics fail to acknowledge about Malcolm X — his full humanity and spiritual transformation over the course of his life.
For those of you who saw Malcolm X during its initial release, the Blu-ray set has some additional features that are worth checking out. There is commentary by Lee and members of his dream team — Dickerson, Carter and Brown. The Blu-ray set also features deleted scenes from the film and a featurette, By Any Means Necessary: The Making of Malcolm X. Additionally, there is a collectible 40-page companion book with rare images from the making of the film.
The best part of the new release is the inclusion of Arnold Perl's 1972 documentary, also entitled Malcolm X, which features archival footage of Malcolm X's speeches throughout his time in the Nation of Islam, an interview with Shabazz after his assassination, a soundtrack that features the Last Poets, a eulogy by the late Ozzie Davis and narration by James Earl Jones.
If you want to see the original speech in which Malcolm X delivered his famous line, "We didn't land on Plymouth Rock; the rock was landed on us," Perl's documentary gives you an intimate look at the man who inspired a movement and filmmakers like Lee.