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Film as a Primary Source

The film was released on November 18, 1992 in the United States. Around the time of the release the issue of Rodney King’s verdict was still fresh in people’s minds. Rodney King was a young African American who was pulled out of his car and was beaten by four Los Angeles Police Officers for speeding. The beating was filmed by George Holliday from his apartment that night. A year later, the verdict stated that only one of the four officers was convicted for the crime. This triggered the uprising of the 1992 Los Angeles Race Riots; the riots lasted six days. Within those six days, 2,383 people were injured, 8,000 arrested, fifty-one killed, and around 700 businesses were burned.[1] Henry Louis Gates Jr., a professor of the Humanities at Harvard University, interviewed Spike Lee on “Malcolm X,” and briefly asked his opinion on the Rodney King verdict during the interview. This is definitely a wake-up call to the nation… The media have tried to say this was the work of black thugs and gang bangers. But the fact is that everybody was looting… It only takes one spark to ignite a revolt” (Lee, 1992).[2] Lee felt this was the perfect time for the film to be out to show more on the need for racial equality. Lee even shows the footage by George Holliday of Rodney King being beaten by the LAPD in the beginning of “Malcolm X.” On DVD Talk Radio, Lee stated that showing the footage was a seize-the-moment decision. “It made perfect sense to me to begin this movie with this brutal beating of a man just because he was black” (Lee, 2007).[3] Spike Lee believed actor Denzel Washington could portray and respect the role as playing Malcolm X. Washington read the autobiography, speeches, and films a year before shooting the movie to fully understand Malcolm X’s life. When interviewed about the film and asked if Lee pushed the edges too far in some scenes, such as the beginning with the footage of Rodney King, Washington replied “People are hungry for the truth… People have been Watergate-ized, Irancontra-ized and Rodney King-ized.” Washington believed that the truth has not been said enough before about racial inequality. The nation has been unwilling to deal with the reality of four centuries of racism. The film was shown to Warner Bros. the day of the L.A. uprising in 1992; the movie left a tremendous impact on the American people because of the current situations dealing with racial inequality in the U.S.

Rodney King Video:

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/ROn_9302UHg" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

Interview with Spike Lee on Denzel Washington:

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/b8FP_8Q8iVw" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

[1] Albert Bergesen and Max Herman, “Immigration, Race, and Riot: The 1992 Los Angeles Uprising,” American Sociological Review 63, no. 1 (February 1998): 39-54.

[2] Anonymous, “Film: Just Whose ‘Malcolm’ is it Anyway?,” New York Times, (May 31, 1992).

[3] 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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