This week marks 53 years since Malcolm X was assassinated. On Feb. 21, 1965, three gunmen rushed the stage at the Audubon Theatre and Ballroom in Harlem, where the 39-year-old Black Muslim leader and civil rights activist was preparing a speech before an audience of hundreds.
The last year of the iconic leader’s life is explored in “The Lost Tapes: Malcolm X” documentary, which uses previously unknown news tapes along with vintage media reports and witnesses to tell an unfiltered story primarily using the words of Malcolm.
The documentary recounts the crossroads portion of Malcolm’s life when he was forced out of the Nation of Islam, and as el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz, created his own organization, the Organization of African American Unity.
During his life, he gave voice to the anger and frustration that African Americans experienced during the tumultuous 1950s and 60s, gaining a reputation for his fiery rhetoric and spellbinding speeches, notes the Smithsonian Channel. “It’s because our effort to get straight to the root that people oft times think we’re dealing in hate,” Malcolm says during speech in the film. “We are oppressed. We are exploited. We are denied not only civil rights, but human rights.”
“The Lost Tapes” series uncovers new and rarely seen or heard material and immerses viewers in critical events of the last century to re-live them as they unfolded with no “talking heads,” but a more impactful, visceral film experience. The filmmaker of the series is Tom Jennings, the producer of the Peabody award-winning “MLK: The Assassination Tapes.”
Jennings says that film process allows viewers to experience the power of Malcolm’s words, which are as poignant now as they were when he first uttered them.
“Who taught you to hate the texture of your hair? Who taught you to hate the color of your skin to such extent that you bleach to get like the white man? Who taught you to hate the shape of your nose? And the shape of your lips? Who taught you to hate yourself, from the top of your head to the soles of your feet?” he asks in the speech, “Who Taught You To Hate Yourself.” “Who taught you to hate your own kind? Who taught you to hate the race that you belong to? So much so that you don’t want to be around each other?”
“As a gauge, have we changed much since then — or have we changed at all?” notes Jennings. “What we were trying to do was tell the story of Malcolm X in the late ‘50s and 1960s up until his assassination so that people know who he was, what he said, what he was about, how his views changed, what he means to America — because, if anything else, these things are like a mirror to ourselves, our own society. We can look back at what was being said at that time and for these reasons.”
By any means necessary, Malcolm X willingly put his life at risk to bring change and equality to Black America.
“The Lost Tapes: Malcolm X” premieres at 8 p.m. Monday on the Smithsonian Channel.