Without taking anything away from the reputation and legacy of the great Martin Luther King, who was born 88 years ago today, I’ve always been more of a Malcolm X man. Not just on a level of admiration but of kinship. Yes, me — a suburban white guy from New Jersey and Connecticut. Without reservation I feel as close in spirit to Malcolm X as I do to Arjuna, the central figure in the Bhagavad Gita. I feel as much personal rapport with Malcolm X as I do with the spirits and legends of JFK, John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Timothy Leary, Ernest Hemingway, Jack London, et. al. I admire and respect MLK, but I worship Malcolm X, and I mean going back to my teens.
I relate to his story (wayward and reckless as a youth but then finding the path as he got older…that’s me!) and the combination of bravery and emerging mental clarity that led to his political and spiritual metamorphoses. A person who stays in the same place — who can’t evolve and change as increasing amounts of light reveal increasing degrees of truth — is nothing, and in this sense Malcolm X was, in my eyes, one of the greatest human beings to walk the planet in the 20th Century. If I had my way we’d all celebrate Malcolm X day on on May 19th, and our nation would be better for that.
If you ask me Denzel Washington‘s titular performance in Malcolm X (’92) is hands down one of the most electric and rousing of all time, not just because of technique and commitment but because Denzel really seemed to channel the man — the voice, the spirit, physical resemblance.
Al Pacino‘s Scent of a Woman performance took the Best Actor Oscar that year (“Hoo-hah!”) but looking back I really think that was a mistake on the Academy’s part. Pacino’s win was part of a payback equation, his having been passed over for so many top-tier performances in the ’70s and ’80s, but Denzel really gave the more monumental performance. I haven’t re-watched Malcolm X in a good 15 years or so, but I just rented a high-def version that I’ll sit down with tonight. An HD Malcolm X on a Sony XBR 4K 65-inch…yes!
Filed on 2.5.09 from Memphis after my visit to the Lorraine Motel, site of the April 4, 1968 murder of Dr. King: “The strongest impression I got was that it’s quiet — dead quiet. The Lorraine stopped being a working motel in ’82 and was soon after bought by the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Foundation and eventually became part of a small network of buildings called the National Civil Rights Museum.
“It’s a queer sensation to suddenly be eyeballing with great concentration a place as famous/infamous as this, and to just…I don’t know, just stroll around and take it all in. I was assessing the distance between the motel’s upper balcony (where King stood just before being shot) and the rear window of a former down-at-the-heels rooming-house from which James Earl Ray fired. Over and over I’ve watched black-and-white photos and newsreel film film (and lately, since the 40th anniversary last year, color video) of this sad place, and it’s just weird to see it live.”
Malcolm X: “I’m not here this afternoon as a Republican, nor as a Democrat; not as a Mason, nor as an Elk; not as a Protestant, nor a Catholic; not as a Christian, nor a Jew; not as a Baptist, nor a Methodist; in fact, not even as an American, because if I was an American, the problem that confronts our people today wouldn’t even exist.
“So I have to stand here today as what I was when I was born: A black man. Before there was any such thing as a Republican or a Democrat, we were black. Before there was any such thing as a Mason or an Elk, we were black. Before there was any such thing as a Jew or a Christian, we were black people! In fact, before there was any such place as America, we were black! And after America has long passed from the scene, there will still be black people.
“I’m gonna tell you like it really is. Every election year these politicians are sent up here to pacify us. They’re sent here and setup here by the White Man. They send drugs in Harlem down here to pacify us. They send alcohol down here to pacify us. They send prostitution down here to pacify us. Why you can’t even get drugs in Harlem without the White Man’s permission! You can’t get prostitution in Harlem without the White Man’s permission! You can’t get gambling in Harlem without the White Man’s permission! Every time you break the seal on that liquor bottle, that’s a Government seal you’re breaking!”