Based on Alex Haley’s bestselling classic The Autobiography of Malcolm X, a rare, lucidly composed screenplay from one of America’s great masters of letters.Son of a Baptist minister; New York City hustler; honor student; convicted criminal; powerful minister in the Nation of Islam; father and husband: Malcolm X transformed himself, time and again, in order to become one of the most feared, loved, and undeniably charismatic leaders of twentieth-century America. No one better represents the tumultuous times of his generation, and there is no one better to capture him and his milieu than James Baldwin. With spare, elegant, yet forceful dialogue and fresh, precise camera directions, Baldwin breathes cinematic life into this controversial and important figure, offering a new look at a man who changed himself in order to change the country.
About the Author
Date of Birth:August 2, 1924
Date of Death:December 1, 1987
Place of Birth:New York, New York
Place of Death:St. Paul de Vence, France
Education:DeWitt Clinton High School, New York City
Read an Excerpt
(The late afternoon, in New York, from the Statue of Liberty in the bay, and the busy water traffic, the downtown spires, the midtown spires, then the garage of the New York Hilton Hotel.The garage is utterly silent, long and ominous.The door leading to the hotel opens, and a man's long, lean silhouette crosses the garage swiftly and gets into a car.There is a long pause before he turns on the ignition and the sound of the motor rolls through the garage.The moment we hear the sound of the motor, the car s side-view mirror fills the screen--as blank as the garage. The radio begins to play--"soul" music--and the car's side-view mirror begins to move, up, into the daylight.We see the driver's bespectacled eyes in the rear-view mirror: eyes both haunted and alert.The music pauses. We hear an announcement that MALCOLM X will be appearing at the Audubon Ballroom in the evening.The side-view mirror, reflecting darkness, then light, then the traffic in the streets.A red light; people crossing the street; soul music. We now see the driver, MALCOLM X, bearded, harried, and yet, at the same time, calm and proud.As the car begins to move again, the side-view mirror begins to reflect inexplicable images, swift, overlapping, blurred.A fire fills the screen. Then, hooded men, on horseback, smashing in the windows of a country house; a fair, young mulatto woman, pregnant, flinching as the horsemen ride between her and the house; and between her and the camera.A voice is heard, shouting, "Brothers, sisters, this is not our home! Our homeland is in Africa! In Africa!"We hear a trolley-car's clanging bell, and see, from the point of view of the motorman, a beaten, one-eyed black man, lying across the streetcar tracks, watching his death approach.MALCOLM's face.The car is moving uptown, through the streets of Manhattan, and we watch MALCOLM watching the people and watching the tall, proud buildings. Following MALCOLM's eye, we begin picking out, isolating, certain details of these buildings:A cupola, at the topmost height of a New York building, transforms itself, as we pass, into the balcony of the presidential mansion in Dakar: flags flying, throngs of black people cheering. The bearded MALCOLM is smiling and responding to the cheers.A very young black STUDENT, male, with a bright and eager face, is speaking to him.)STUDENT You must return. You must come back to us. MALCOLM I have come back. After many centuries.Thank you--thank you!--for welcoming me. You have given me a new name!(MALCOLM, in a great hall, somewhere in Africa, being draped in an African robe.The black ruler, who places this robe on him, pronounces this new name at the same time that MALCOLM repeats it to the STUDENT.)MALCOLM Omowale.STUDENT It means: the son who has returned.MALCOLM I have had so many names--(We see the Book of the Holy Register of True Muslims. A hand inscribes in this book the name: El-Haji Malik El Shabazz.We see a family Bible and a black hand inscribing: Malcolm Little, May 19, 1925.)I will come back to you. I promise--(After a moment) God willing.(The windows of New York buildings, blinding where the sun strikes.)MALCOLM'S VOICE OVER So many names--(We hear the raucous sound of a Lindy Hop.In the side-view mirror: a conked and sweating MALCOLM, dancing, spinning.A voice yells, "Hey, Red! Go on, Red!"MALCOLM acknowledges this, without missing a beat. He is dancing with a very young, radiant, black girl, LAURA. They execute a particularly spectacular and punishing pas de deux, the crowd roaring them on, and when MALCOLM has, literally, set LAURA's feet on solid ground again, he holds her against him a moment. They are very, very young: and they smile at each other that way.)MALCOLM You are the cutest thing.(MALCOLM'S present, weary, bearded face: very much alone. Idly, he watches a very attractive blond girl striding along the avenue.)MALCOLM'S VOICE OVER Sophia--(The car stops for a light.The blond girl, who is actually not SOPHIA, enters a jewelry shop. We see her through the glass.In the side-view mirror, we see:MALCOLM'S long hands tangled in SOPHIA's long blond hair. They kiss--a long moment--and then we see that they are in a room, on a bed. SOPHIA is wearing a loose robe. MALCOLM is naked to the waist.)MALCOLM And what you going to tell your white boy about your black boy? your fine black stud? your nigger?--You hear me talking to you, Miss Anne?SOPHIA I am not going to speak about you at all.MALCOLM Suppose somebody else tells him?SOPHIA Who could make him believe it?MALCOLM (laughs) You keep telling me you know how white men are. (She kisses him.) Don't nobody care about you people at all?(He pulls her down on top of him. She buries her head in his chest. Then she looks up at him.)SOPHIA I don't think so--don't laugh--only you--(And MALCOLM pulls her head down on his chest.)(MALCOLM, in prison, in a fist-fight. He and his opponent are separated by the guards.A voice yells, "Satan!")MALCOLM (shouting) I didn't do a damn thing! I was minding my own business when this joker come fucking over me! I ain't no punk!(The GUARDS subdue him and hurl him into solitary, MALCOLM shouting and cursing every inch of the way. When the door locks behind him, he begins beating on the door, finally slumps.)MALCOLM'S VOICE OVER So many names.(A tree, from which flutter old, discolored rags--which once were clothes, which once were bloodstained; great birds circling in a luminous gray sky; and then clothes billowing from the clothesline of the Little home.A lone female black voice, singing:"Bye and bye,Bye and bye, I'm going to lay downThis heavy, heavy load."The very fair, young mulatto woman, pregnant, trudges from the clothesline toward this house. This is LOUISE LITTLE.The one-eyed EARL LITTLE, preaching.)EARL God has sent us a prophet who will take us home. Do you understand that, brothers and sisters? do you understand that? To take us home! Back to Africa! We're going to leave this accursed people, who been slaughtering us so long! (His listeners all are black: a not overwhelming number. We are in a black church.) But we must raise ourselves so that we need nothing from the white man--nothing!(Holster of a white man on horseback. The horse is restless.From within a white house a black hand lifts a white curtain, lets the curtain drop.)A BLACK VOICE Lord have mercy.EARL We shall establish our own businesses, raise our own food--(LOUISE, at the stove, cooking: and watching the clock.)EARL And when we have established our sufficiency, we will do as Christ told us to do--we will shake the dust of this most accursed of nations from off our feet. And join our brother, Marcus Garvey, and go home!(The Klan, riding through the night.LOUISE hears this. She looks quickly at the children, who are silent.The clothes on the line, billowing over the heads of some of the riders as they enter the Little yard.LOUISE walks to the door, and faces the riders. LOUISE is nearly as white as they are and this lends her a very particular bitterness and a contemptuous authority.If they are intimidated by the particular quality of her fury, they are nevertheless together and she is alone.)LOUISE What you all want here, this time of night? I got my children's supper on the stove.A RIDER Where's your husband?LOUISE lf he was home, would I be standing out here in the yard?A RIDER If you want to keep on standing, you better watch your tongue.LOUISE You can veil your face, but you can't hide your voice, Mr. Joel. I know every one of you.(A RIDER laughs. His horse rears.)A RIDER Well, if you know every one of us, you know we mean business. You tell your one-eyed liverlipped preacher husband--LOUISE You tell him whatever it is you got to tell him! or ain't you man enough?A RIDER We trying to be patient--A RIDER You half-white bitch-- LOUISE I might be your daughter, for all you know--or your sister--!A RIDER Your husband keep on stirring up the bad niggers in this town, we going to have his ass in a sling--you tell him that!A RIDER He going to lose his other eye!(His restless horse rears again, and, in a sudden fury, the RIDER smashes in one of the windows with the butt of his gun. He prods his horse, and all the RIDERS follow him. They ride around the house, smashing in every window with their gun butts, and ride away.LOUISE's clenched hands on her swollen belly.)(Night. The streetcar tracks, from the motorman's point of view.EARL rushes to catch this streetcar but misses it. He stands, in an odd and violent frustration, on the tracks, watching the streetcar vanish. He begins walking home.A car with Nebraska license plates moves slowly along the dark streets, and we see that the two white men in the car are armed.EARL walks under the billowing clothesline, and the light falls on his face as his wife opens the door. He walks slowly around his violated house; we hear the children whispering and weeping.He turns to LOUISE, who stands in the doorway, who has not moved.)LOUISE Earl, maybe now you'll listen to me. We can't stay here. Earl. We got to go.EARL I ain't going to let them drive me away like this.--Oh, no. Oh, no.LOUISE Listen to your children in there, crying, scared to death! Man, can't you hear your children?EARL I hear my children. That's why we ain't going to run.(He starts into the house. LOUISE stops him.)LOUISE Earl, it don't matter about me. I ain't worried about me. I ain't never asked for you to worry about me. We made our choice, and that's all right. But my babies, Earl--my babies!(She is weeping. He holds her to him, a long moment; we watch his face.)EARL All right. Tell you what. We'll go. We'll go. But we can't go nowhere tonight. I got to get busy fixing these windows. And tomorrow morning--early tomorrow morning--I'll start arranging for us to get out of this town.--But it going to be the same thing, no matter where we go. They ain't never going to treat us right, not here. This white man is too sick. We got to get to Africa.LOUISE Earl--where in Africa?EARL Wherever Brother Garvey leads us.LOUISE I wish I was black--black like you--blacker than you! Goddamn it, how I hate them, hate them--! Every drop of that white rapist's blood that's in my veins!EARL Hush. (He strokes her belly.) We can't get far, nohow, before this little one gets here. He in a hurry. I can feel him pushing up against my hand.LOUISE He'll sure be here before we get to Africa.(They go into the house.We see a map, and LOUISE's finger.)LOUISE'S VOICE OVER No. You were born here, Malcolm. (Her finger touches: Omaha.) And then we moved--here.(Her finger touches: Milwaukee.)(Night. The screen is dark. A match is struck in the darkness. It flickers, seems nearly to go out; then another wisp of flame appears; then another.EARL turns in bed, beginning to awaken.LOUISE sits up.)LOUISE Earl!(The flames are devouring the house. They gather up the children, covering them with blankets, with anything, and get them out of the house.)EARL We got all the children? Where's Malcolm?LOUISE He's here. They're all here.A CHILD'S VOICE Here I am.(We watch EARL'S desperate face, watching the fire.LOUISE is watching.The arrival of the fire engines. The firemen are white.The crowd gathering. The crowd is white.The fire trucks come to a halt; and the firemen stand and watch the fire.EARL turns and watches the crowd. He picks up the baby, MALCOLM, and holds him in his arms.Father and son, the mother and the children watch the crowd watching the fire.A map.)LOUISE'S VOICE OVER And then your father built a house--here. (Her finger stops at: Lansing.) That's where we stayed.(A sea gull, turning and turning in the sky. A bright summer day.The young, bright, gawky, conked MALCOLM, walking, with his shoes and a pair of girl's shoes tied over his shoulder.)MALCOLM I wasn't really born there. I just grew up there.LAURA I never heard of it.MALCOLM Well, there's a big town not too far from it, called Detroit--that's where they make the cars. You ever hear of Detroit?(MALCOLM and LAURA are walking along a deserted Cape Cod beach, barefoot, he with his trousers rolled.)LAURA Yes. I've heard of Detroit. Was--Lansing--a nice town? Did you like it there?MALCOLM I didn't want to live there. No more than I want to live in Boston.LAURA What's wrong with Boston? I live here.MALCOLM Well, I think I'm big enough to overlook that. In fact, I'm thinking of kidnapping you. You want to be like all them hill clowns? them people your grandmother like so much?LAURA Just because my grandmother likes them doesn't mean that I have to like them.MALCOLM She want you to like them. She want you to be like that. She want you to marry somebody like that. Like that deacon--what's his name--so black and puffed up he can't hardly talk--the one who call me Master Little--ha! I ain't master of nothing. He say he "in banking." In banking! (An elderly black man, solemnly winding an impressive watch.) He don't see penny one in that bank. They don't let him nowhere near the money. All he do is mop their floors. (Which, after the gentleman has elaborately tucked his watch away, we see is all too true.) And old Miss Stella, talking about she with a "old family"--yeah. And what she doing with that old family? She cook their food and scrub their toilets--(A handsome black woman is simultaneously putting on her street clothes and expertly filling a large, respectable-looking handbag.)--and take home their leftovers. If she married to that cat "in banking," I reckon she better.LAURA Don't talk like that.MALCOLM Well, it's true! And that cat "in utilities." He in, all right--when he ain't outside riding a bicycle for the gas company. In utilities!LAURA That's another generation. You haven't got to be like that.MALCOLM (stops walking; looks at her) You' damn right.
What People are Saying About This
"Sharp.... Precise.... There is no questioning the depth and sincerity of Baldwin's admiration for Malcolm X." —The Times Literary Supplement"A work energetically and demotically written." —The New Statesman