BU Film School

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

FT 540 Reading: Malcolm X

Screenplay info
Written by: James Baldwin, Arnold Perl, and Spike Lee, based on Malcolm X's autobiography
Film info: http://us.imdb.com/Title?0104797

Synopsis
Opener -- Roxbury, during the war years. Shorty gives Malcolm a conk, making his hair straight and smooth. "Sunovabitch, it looks white."

Flashback to black man, beaten, on trolley tracks.

Malcolm gets a zoot suit.

Flashback: Klansmen break windows of Little home, won't stand for father's troublemaking. Earl Little a Garvey advocate (blacks should return to Africa). Mother is light-skinned (her mom raped by white), married Earl because she wanted her kids to have some color.

Roseland State Ballroom. Glenn Miller is playing for a white crowd. Shorty shows Malcolm (aka Red) how to shoeshine, be washroom attendant. Malcolm is ingratiating with patrons.

Ballroom later on that night. Hampton is playing for predominantly black crowd. Best dancers get floor to themselves for lindy tune. Malcolm and Laura dance, watched by Sophia (who's noticed by Malcolm). They do solo, get applause. Laura goes to freshen up, Sophia approaches Malcolm. They dance, Sophia tells him to take Laura home and come back.

Malcolm takes Laura home. "I ain't white and I don't put out." Malcolm and Sophia are together. She's the aggressor. "I don't like bitches that talk."

Malcolm, Shorty watch Bogart & Cagney, play cops and robbers on Boston Common. Malcolm play-acts dying. Shorty: "He used to be a big shot."

Malcolm, Shorty at Harvard Law. "Equal Justice Under Law" motto disturbs Malcolm. White students (not maliciously) force them onto grass.

Flashback: insurance company says Earl took own life, won't pay.

Sophia fixes eggs for Malcolm. He orders her around, she's pliant. When is she going to holler rape?

Laura and Malcolm walk on beach. She loves him. He says save it for Mr. Right. They go to drugstore. Thought "Not for Sale" was a brand name. Flashback: social worker visits, Louise Little stands up to her. Children parcelled out. Malcolm sent to school, became sort of mascot, does well, but is told "a lawyer is no realistic goal for a nigger."

Malcolm visits mother in insane hospital. "You want my skin. All right, I'll give it to you ... See how you like it."

Malcolm, others on train listen to Joe Louis-Max Schmeling heavyweight championship fight. Louis wins, waiters happy. Mr. Cooper interrupts. Malcolm sells sandwiches, coffee, etc. Restrains impulse to shove pie in face of man who calls him boy.

Malcolm in Harlem, delighted with sights and sounds. Streets filled with celebration of Louis' win. Malcolm goes to Small's Paradise, exchanges words with bumper, hits him. He meets West Indian Archie, who gets him new clothes and gives him gun. Montage shows different numbers (Bible verse, clock, cash register) that Malcolm is running. Malcolm, Archie, Sophia do cocaine.

Malcolm in Small's Paradise. Tiff with Honey. Sees Laura with Daniel, a druggie. More of a tiff with Honey, which Archie breaks up. Malcolm tense because of draft notice. Says wants to volunteer for Japanese army. Gives bet to Archie.

Malcolm in line at induction center, makes more comments. Talks crazy to doctor (once we get guns, we're going after rednecks). Tells Archie, Sammy, Sophia about interview, shows them 4-F draft card. Asks Archie to pay him for bet, Archie denies he wanted combination. Falling out. Archie, pissed, throws money on table. Later, at the Onxy Club, Archie calls Malcolm a liar, he and Sammy go after him, but Malcolm escapes.

Flashback: Black Legion sets house on fire, Earl gets kids out. "I'm not a boy, I'm a man. Another flashback: Earl run over by tram.

Malcolm back in Boston. He and his gang go into pimping, house burglaries. Malcolm does Russian roulette to gain leadership of gang -- palmed bullet right into chamber. While Malcolm getting another conk, cops come. Peg and Sophia get 2 years, Malcolm, Shorty and Rudy get 14 counts of 8-10 years, to run concurrently.

Prisoners in lockup. Malcolm watched by Bembry. Malcolm refuses to state number when name called, gets two days in hole ("I'm Malcolm Little, not no goddamn number"), then two more days. Broken, says number. Bembry gives him nutmeg to help withdrawal, disgusted with conk.

Bembry talks to Malcolm about blacks, shows him black/white definitions. Malcolm studies dictionary, reads. More talk during baseball game about blacks being first on earth. Jackie Robinson throwing them a bone. More talk -- devil is white. Malcolm to become Muslim, named Malcolm X (to replace slave name), can't accept submission. Hallucinates Elijah, can kneel and pray. Bembry at home, peaceful dinner scene, writes to invite Malcolm.

Malcolm disputes with chaplain about color of disciples, Hebrews, God. Preaches on street corner (has competition). Scenes of Malcolm talking to maids, Christians. Meeting room shows progress and growth. Malcolm/Archie meet -- contrast in their states.

Bembry introduces Betty to Malcolm. He's distracted, she teases him about not eating. They talk about view of women (according to Elijah, deceitful and untrustworthy), restriction on pork. They go to soda parlor, flirt. Sidney brings word -- Johnson attacked by cops. Malcolm goes to station, demands to see Johnson, demands he be sent to hospital. March on hospital -- Benjamin tries to get close to Malcolm but stopped. When doctor says Johnson will be OK, Malcolm disperses crowd. Cop: too much power for one man. Benjamin wants to join, told to stick around.

Elijah: Malcolm will be First Minister, found temples all over country. Malcolm proposes to Betty. He warns won't be easy, will be away a lot. Malcolm speaks. First daughter, Attallah. Newsreel footage of Selma, Birmingham, MLK. "Either the ballet or the bullet." 2nd child, Quibillah.

Malcolm debates on TV. House negroes and field Negroes. Bembry jealous, says Malcolm getting too much publicity. Malcolm in Harlem -- shots of him talking to people, being followed by reporters. Malcolm demands Benjamin fast, copy letter exactly, Benjamin 2X. Harvard Square, white coed -- what can I do? Absolutely nothing.

Largest rally yet. Bembry resentful. Malcolm -- Elijah, "His greatest greatness." Dick Gregory -- dupe or dope? Betty, Malcolm discuss Elijah's paternity suits, Bembry blocking off front page. Malcolm learns Elijah talking behind his back. Says to Bembry he's hustler, Elijah's adulterer.

Kennedy assassination. For Malcolm, it's the devil's chickens coming home to roost. Elijah -- silence Malcolm for 90 days. excuse to lower boom. Find car's been tampered with. Sidney reveals assignment, couldn't follow through. Death threats.

Malcolm splits, forms new group, goes to Mecca, prays with other pilgrims of all colors. Bembry now #2. Malcolm no longer thinks all whites are evil, but still extremist (because still extreme conditions). Benjamin Thomas - git your hand out of my pocket. House on fire, Malcolm leads family out. Muslim HQ - publicity stunt.

Assassins. Close-ups of weapons. White coed -- what can I do? Don't teach people to believe in white supremacy. Malcolm: power structure won't let him die of old age. Assassins case ballroom (stark contrast to teenager dance). People converge on ballroom. Malcolm introduced. "Git your hand ..." signal for assassins. Malcolm shot. Harlem bids him farewell. Shots of students paying tribute: "I'm Malcolm X." Nelson Mandela. "By any means necessary."

My notes
-- detailed shot directions. good use of close-ups
-- mix of personal drama (Malcolm/Betty, Malcolm/Benbry, etc.) and larger scenes
-- good use of music -- sets period, supports action/themes
-- voiceovers, most by Malcolm -- provide background, link scenes
-- sound overlaps
-- different father figures of Archie, Benbry -- Malcolm betrayed by both
-- use of newspaper headlines, convention of biopic
-- very human characters. Malcolm gets full range of emotions - love, hate, anger, fear. Film also allows for humor. Starts out as one of worst, becomes hero.

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