Black History Month is the month that is dedicated to recognizing and celebrating the remarkable achievements made by African Americans. Achievements that are very often overlooked or purposefully not given the recognition they deserve, largely due to a mixture of white pride and racism. So, is there any better way to celebrate Black History Month than with movies that give a new and insightful look into some of the most important black leaders? Of course. But if you’re like me and don’t have the time or the money to celebrate BHM in a more reverent way, then these two movies will be sufficient.
1. Who Killed Malcolm X? (Netflix)
Season 1. 6 episodes
There seems to be a disturbing pattern when it comes to many black leaders. They build a following, begin to speak out about injustices in the Black Community, and then seemingly out of nowhere they’re murdered and the case is never solved. People such as Tupac Shakur, James Reeb, and Louis Allen are just a few examples of this. So who really killed Malcolm X? Of course, the simple answer would be the three men who were convicted: Talmadge hayer, Norman 3X Butler, and Thomas 15X Johnson. But if this was true then why did the only man who admitted to it say that both Norman and Thomas were innocent?
These are the questions that Activist Abdur-Rahman Muhammad attempts to solve in this this 6-part docuseries. Each episode focuses on different topics that surround Malcolm, such as his childhood, his conversion to the Nation of Islam, his relationship with Elijah Muhammad, and the constant surveillance he was under via J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI. Aside from this, it also shows Malcolm’s growth from a hate-filled activist who preached violence and held resentment towards his non-violent “rival” MLK, to a more calm and peaceful person after his pilgrimage to Mecca.
But the question that Abdur-Rahman Muhammad is trying to solve is the shows title name: Who killed Malcolm X? In an affidavit released by Talmadge in which he attempted to clear the names of his convicted co-defendants, he wrote and listed the four other men that were allegedly involved in the slaying of Malcolm. Based off this, Abdur begins his search for the true killers of Malcolm X.
2. Just Mercy (Theaters)
Runtime: 2 hours & 17 minutes
Cast: Micheal B. Jordan, Brie Larson, Jamie Foxx
Just Mercy tells the remarkable true story of Harvard Alumni Bryan Stevenson as he heads to Monroeville, Alabama to defend those wrongfully convicted or those not afforded proper representation. The movie takes us along his incredibly difficult journey of getting Walter McMilian, an innocent black man who was accused of murdering an 18-year-old white female, off of death row. Due to superb performances and beautiful cinematography, the movie never failed to keep me actively engaged in the story. Thankfully, the film also doesn’t suffer from the “White Savior” trope that so many other black-focused films undergo.
Aside from the performances and cinematography, the film also tackles the injustice of capital punishment, a very important yet overlooked issue that affects many innocent black men. In fact, as of October 2002, 12 people have been executed where the defendant was white and the murder victim black, compared with 178 black defendants executed for murders with white victims. According to the NAACP, for every ten people executed from 1973-2016, more than one person has been exonerated. This number does not take into consideration the number of people who were executed despite compelling evidence of innocence, or for whom evidence of innocence was found after their capital punishment.
In conclusion, these two films have undoubtedly opened the grounds for very important conversations. As someone who didn’t know a whole lot about Malcolm X, the documentary proved to be very insightful and allowed me to better understand the important contributions he made. In fact, the movie has prompted the same team who exonerated the Central Park 5 to help reexamine the Malcolm X murder case, and possibly exonerate Norman 3X Butler. Aside from Just Mercy receiving multiple NAACP Image Award Nominations, it also introduced me to a prominent black leader who I would have otherwise not known about. For these reasons, I strongly recommend that you check these movies out while you still can.