The story of a marked man whose assassination has been questioned for decades.
Who Killed Malcolm X is a six-part documentary mini-series on Netflix, which was released on February 7, 2020. The series depicts the independent re-investigation of the assassination of Afro-American human rights activist Malcolm X by a historian and tourguide, Abdur-Rahman Muhammad.
The series, directed by directed by Rachel Dretzin and Phil Bertelsen, shows the work of Muhammad who, together with respected historian Zaheer Ali, Pulitzer Prize winner for history, David Garrow, and archivist Michael Lorenzini, has managed to piece together a more than plausible case against a new suspect.
On February 21, 1965, Malcolm X was shot while speaking at one of his rallies a the Audubon Ballroom in New York City. The case was closed after the arrests of three people, of whom only one was one of the five shooters involved in the assassination. The other two have maintained their innocence.
The series paints an intricate story of Malcolm X’s last days, the several attempts on his life, and the acceptance of his fate as a marked man. It also reveals the corruption that existed in law enforcement as well as religious societies, and ultimately, the man who Muhammad believes, killed Malcolm X.
The story conveyed by the documentary could also be described as a fight against white supremacy during the civil rights movement which then gets tangled in power politics, as the documentary shows how Malcolm X’s international recognition conjured resentment.
The series gives the audience an extensive recap of all the enemies Malcolm X had accumulated just before his death, which included Elijah Muhammed of the Nation of Islam (NOI), the FBI, and the local police, the NYPD. Based on other historical documentaries I’ve watched such as ‘The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution’, the FBI is known for their infiltration tactics and wiretapping in order to destroy black movements from the inside, and this storyline reappears once again in the case of Malcolm X.
The the conclusion I came to was that, the FBI had a three year plan, in which they used Elijah Muhammad’s power over the NOI, as well as his feud with Malcolm X, to have Malcolm X killed.
The series also made an effort to portray the brutally honest white male perspective, however I noticed that there were only three women (out of several men) in the whole series who were given interviewed. Throughout the documentary, I could not help but compare the facts delivered, to the dramatisation offered by the TV series ‘The Godfather of Harlem’. I was pleasantly surprised by the accuracy of the dramatization I once believed to be an exaggeration. Both these depictions seem to match the events that unfold in ‘The Autobiography of Malcolm X’ and the Spike Lee film ‘Malcolm X’.
The depiction of Malcolm X is believable with credible information painting a picture of who he was before he became thdocumentary succeeded in portraying Malcolm X accurately, by showing us who he was before he became Malcolm X or El-Haaj Malik El Shabazz. He was a great example of a reformed criminal, because he became more righteous than the man who helped him turn his life around. However, we are shown the vulnerable and naive side of him as well.
In terms of production, there was great use of animation, and actual photographs and footage from the events. The use of crime scene photos and live chalk illustration managed to pull the audience into a full forensic investigation. The black and white footage played a role in supporting the facts that were being narrated, as well as juxtaposing what film looks like today.
The title sequence of the documentary includes a song called ‘Young World’ by Royce da 5’9”, featuring Vince Staples. This song does a good job of setting a pro-black atmosphere with the use of a funk, jazz and hip/hop fusion, and also becomes a point of enjoyment for hip-hop aficionados,
People who are not as familiar with Malcolm X’s legacy will also be given insight as to how professional boxer Muhammad Ali was influenced by him, and later by the NOI.
The series managed to highlight the fact that police brutality has not improved. It also made me think about the continued mass incarceration of black men, and its role in the white supremacist agenda. Furthermore, the producers also impressed me with their ability to evoke many different complex emotions in the audience throughout the series, which in itself is a representation of the black condition.
The way the producers featured footage of the melancholic Betty X, was effective in portraying the inherent pain of a black woman, which has not changed.
The build up to the reveal of Malcolm X’s assassin maintained a prolonged climax that when the actual name reveal happened, it felt like more of a relief than a surprise.
This turned out to be quite effective, because the situation was similar to that of African activists such as Chris Hani and Josiah Tongogara. They are mysteries that many people claim to have the answer to.
FEATURED IMAGE: Malcolm X at one of his rallies, preaching about self love to a crowd of African Americans. . Photo: Thobekile Moyo.