Malcolm X | Foreshadowing and Death

The tension in the last half an hour of Malcolm X is palpable. There’s a certain dread about this part of the film, and the anticipation of Malcolm’s death seeps off the screen. Much of this is from the wonderful acting in these final scenes, but I wanted in this post to pick up some of the ways that Spike Lee foreshadows Malcolm’s assassination through film form, especially through the repetition of image-types, sound, and camera movement.

Death – violent death – enters the film as a major theme in an early scene of Malcolm and Shorty playacting cops and gangsters.

Close-up shot of a “dead” Malcolm.

Immediate, jarring cut to his father in his own moment of horrific, impending death:

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Compare these shots, where the camera is close to the ground to the shot of Malcolm’s dead body after his assassination, where the camera looks vertically down at him (from heaven?):

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Do the Right Thing | love (violence) hate

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Thursday’s class discussion made me want to delve more deeply into the love/hate dichotomy as represented in the film, and the role violence plays in it. The idea of love/hate is emphasized most bluntly by Radio Raheem’s knuckle rings, as pictured above: love and hate are side by side. It’s important to the narrative that our most explicit portrayal of love and hate comes through Radio Raheem’s narration of them as engaged in a constant battle, demonstrated by his mimed battle, full of jabs and punches. Violence, then, the violence of this fake fight, is not affiliated with either love or hate: rather, violence becomes the vector through which love and hate are expressed.

Violence as a vehicle for love is expressed most fully for me by the scene in which the mother spanks her son. She isn’t spanking him out of hate: she’s spanking him out of a fear and anger that arises from love. It’s a love that’s saying, through the violence of corporal punishment, “How dare you put your life at risk like that? How dare you put your life at risk like that when there are so many other ways you can be taken from me?”. This, for me, is the most powerful act of love through violence in the film: “I appreciate you helping my Eddie, I truly do,” she says to the Mayor, “but I’ll have nobody question the way I raise him, not even his daddy.” She’s shot from below as she says this, with the incredulous faces of the (entirely male) crowd behind her: she is authoritative and in control. Her love is not weak, or compromising: it expresses itself through this particular mode of violence, and it is powerful, protective, moving.

Her response to her son’s reckless endangerment of his life exists in tension with, and is refracted through, the death of Radio Raheem. His murder at the hands of the police is the film’s most profound act of hate through violence. It is an act of hatred towards the black body, a fear of and hatred for what the black body represents: it is hatred, subconscious and conscious, expressed through violence. This act of hatred links back to the mother’s act of love because it is, in large part, fear that motivates parents punishing children, mothers punishing children. Black mothers live in a world where their sons might be taken from them at any moment, without any rhyme or reason or justice, simply for their being black. Such hatred through violence shapes the mother’s love through violence: how dare you risk yourself, her spanking says, when any night you may be taken from me by the very people who are supposed to protect you?

Bamboozled| Mantan’s Final Show

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I chose this particular scene (1:57) in the movie because it was the final progression of Mantan’s career. Mantan finds himself under orders for the entirety of the movie. He’s first managed by his friend Womack, then by Delacroix, and finally under orders of by the Mau Maus. As he continues to sacrifice his own values for the pursuit of his dreams, the lighting in this film dramatically changes. The film opens with Manray dancing on a home made stage of wooden planks in broad daylight, but as it progresses more and more of the scenes take place in the shadows, and ends in almost complete darkness. In this screenshot we see Mantan cowering in the corner on another wooden plank stage, similar to the one he began his career on. His audience is in the shadows, and you can only see their pointing arms and guns. The shot composition in the scene is interesting as it mimics Mantan’s prior performances on the Minstrel show. He’s the only character out of the shadows with the Mau Mau is his audience in blackface. A television in the background also mirrors the documentation of his last performance.

As the Mau Maus mock him before the final performance, they brand him as a disgrace, as some one who exploited his own race for the white entertainment industry. Mantan began the movie in poverty and dreamt of achieving fame, and this scene raises the question of whether or not the pursuit of his dream was worth the sacrifices he made for not only himself but his entire race. Further, who’s responsibility was it to determine these shows as morally apprehensible: Mantan as the performer, or the viewers indulging in this degrading form of entertainment?