Malcolm X

Movie review by
Scott G. Mignola, Common Sense Media
Malcolm X Movie Poster Image
Parents recommend
Insightful and well-rounded portrait of Malcolm X.
  • PG-13
  • 1992
  • 201 minutes

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 5 reviews

Kids say

age 11+
Based on 1 review

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

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 & Representations

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.


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.


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.


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."


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.

What 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.

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User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byAmazing_Angel January 21, 2019

One of the greatest stories of redemption ever.

This movie is a great adaptation of one of the greatest books ever written about one of the greatest stories of redemption ever. Definitely a movie everyone sh... Continue reading
Adult Written byjmo97 October 21, 2016

Somewhat overlong, but very engaging and moving

Despite the movie being almost three and a half hours long, I felt the time went pretty fast up until the last half hour, or so. Denzel Washington absolutely ow... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byAngel1234567890 March 27, 2011


i cried at the end of the movie i can tell you that and when he was assasinated.RIP Malcolm X.

What's the story?

His home burned to the ground, his minister father murdered, Malcolm Little is taken from his family at an early age to flounder and eventually find opportunity in crime. A long prison sentence turns his life around, for behind bars he meets a man named Baines, who teaches him self-respect and enlightenment through the teachings of Black Muslim leader Elijah Muhammad. Back on the streets, Malcolm sheds his last name and preaches that 400 years of oppression is enough. He tells his congregation not to hate the white man, but to love themselves, to respect themselves, to defend themselves -- by any means necessary. After a pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca makes him see that different races can indeed live together harmoniously, his philosophy changes, but not before the hatred he's sparked turns against him.

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.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the advantages and limitations of using movies to dramatize the lives of famous or important people. Can movies tell the story of lives in ways that other media, such as books or radio, can't? Where do they fall short?

  • Talk about the film's violence. How is it different from, say, an action movie or a thriller? How does it affect you when someone is beat up or shot in this movie?

  • How do the lessons of this movie apply today? Does discrimination still exist?

Movie details

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