A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
The movie's ultimate point is that people are equal and everyone deserves the same amount of consideration, empathy, and tolerance, but the movie takes a long time to get there. It takes Malcolm X many years of trial and error to find his true calling. Up to the final stretch, he is seen living a life of crime (involving drugs, prostitution, etc.) and then preaching hatred and revenge. But the payoff is worth it.
Positive Role Models
Malcolm X is a man who takes many paths before finding the right one. Throughout most of the movie he is not much of a role model, but toward the end, he becomes dedicated to teaching and helping others. He tries to preach empathy and tolerance, rather than hatred and revenge.
Violence & Scariness
Most of the violence here appears in archival news footage, including the Rodney King beating of 1991, and various events from the Civil Rights era. Members of the Ku Klux Klan burn a house, but the family escapes. There's a bar fight, and a man in smashed in the face with a bottle. A man is killed while lying on top of a woman in bed. There are lots of guns, and some disturbing sequences having to do with prison. One Muslim is beat up by cops, and we see blood. Most importantly, there's the assassination of Malcolm himself, which involves some horrifying gun-related violence and blood.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Malcolm leaves his chaste girlfriend for a "devil" white woman that "puts out." No nudity or sex is shown, but he is seen dominating her during their intimate moments. We see kissing and flirting. There are images of prostitution (one customer is about to receive oral sex), and a mention of rape. The movie also deals with the situation in which two women accuse Elijah Muhammad of fathering their children.
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The "N" word is heard very frequently here, which is justified by its historical context. "F--k" is heard once, as is "s--t." Other words include "bitch," "ass," and "hell."
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Products & Purchases
One vintage Coca-Cola ad is visible. During the film's epilogue, we see images of the famous "X" baseball caps, which became popular around the time of the film's release.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
The main characters are seen drinking whisky in bars. Eventually they become involved in selling cocaine. Drugs are mentioned often. One character smokes a cigar.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Malcolm X -- Spike Lee's epic biopic about the black minister, leader, and human rights activist -- features some scenes of racial violence, notably disturbing news footage, and two violent incidents that involve guns and blood. Language is strong, but infrequent, except for many uses of the "N" word. Malcolm's early days living a life of crime include many references to and images of drugs and prostitution, and he also has an active sex life (everything changes when he becomes a Muslim). Teens should be OK, given the overall power and significance of this film, and the undeniably positive message it brings. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
Based on The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Spike Lee's chronicle of the rise and fall of the outspoken -- and still-controversial -- civil rights leader isn't the angry film one might expect. Perhaps MALCOLM X's greatest achievement is the fair-mindedness with which it treats its subject. Lee is honest in giving us a flawed hero, a man blinded by his cause, a leader unafraid to publicly denounce his own philosophies as he awakens to new and more hopeful ones. Denzel Washington turns in a stunning, dignified performance without ever seeming like he's acting. As his wife, Angela Bassett is also outstanding, as are Albert Hall and Al Freeman Jr. as the men who give his life purpose.
The movie does an excellent job, too, of stressing the importance of education, reminding us that we each have the power not just to change our own life, but the lives of many. That's a terrific seed to plant in the heads of high school students looking toward college and a future career. As with Gandhi, another outstanding true story with similar themes, the movie's lengthy running time doesn't seem at all extravagant, but rather necessary to give a complex life the dimension it deserves.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.