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Making Malcolm X

“Malcolm X,” was not an easy film to produce; there were at least three major problems that came along with the production. First, the original director to be for the Malcolm X film was a white man named Norman Jewison. Spike Lee felt appalled by Jewison as the director “insisting that only an African-American director could handle this material.”[1] Lee later explained, “White Americans will never know what it feels like to be an African-American in this country…. that’s not saying that only white people can direct white films or black people can direct black films, but there are specific cases where [where] you are from, your environment, will help.”[2] Norman Jewison eventually dropped the project due to pressure from the press for being a white American director; Spike Lee then became the new director for the film, “Malcolm X.” The second problem did not relate directly to the film, but more on the publics’ reaction to how Lee only spoke with black journalists. Black journalists at the time of his production were the only race who could interview and discuss with Spike Lee on the “Malcolm X” film. Lee restated his view by saying he preferred black journalists, but still would continue to be interviewed by other races. Lee explained, “It is my belief that, because Malcolm X is such a part of the African-American psyche and experience, African-American journalists will be that much more sensitive to the subject matter.”[3] This issue showed the public that there were not many African American journalists. In a way, Lee opened the press’ eyes to the lack of African Americans, women, and other minorities in this work field. The final problem with the making of “Malcolm X,” was financing the production. Warner Bros. Studio offered the film only $20 million for a two hour and fifteen minute production, with just $8 million coming from other sources. It is estimated that Spike Lee went over the budget by $5 million. Chris Tribbey from DVD Talk Radio interviewed Lee over the phone about the film going over the budget. Tribbey asked if it was true, that Lee used two-thirds of his own salary to keep the production going. To this, Lee replied, “Actually, I think I threw it all in there.”[4] To fund the rest of the film, Lee went public and asked known celebrities such as Michael Jordan, Oprah Winfrey, Prince, and Bill Cosby to help financial.

Spike Lee


[1] Anonymous, “Malcolm X,” Chapters.indigo.ca, (January 2007), http://www.chapters.indigo.ca/dvd/Malcolm-X-Spike-Lee-Denzel-Washington/085391259626item.html?pticket=ghkr3245b2pxycanhur3fi55kgfBXq7oMzOimGbykK7DKPinws0%3d (November 3, 2008).

[2] Lbid.

[3] Charles Derry, “Spike Lee,” Film Reference, (2008), http://www.filmreference.com/Directors-Ku-Lu/Lee-Spike.html (November 3, 2008).

[4] Chris Tribbey, “Spike Lee on Malcolm X,” DVD Talk Radio, (2007), http://www.dvdtalk.com/interviews/spike_lee_on_ma.htm (November 2, 2008).

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