Spike Lee’s ‘Malcolm X’ is a biographical drama film about the African-American activist Malcolm X. Based on The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X and Alex Haley, the 1992 film depicts the life of Malcolm (Denzel Washington) from his childhood to youthful years of thievery to imprisonment and subsequent development into an activist and an influential African-American figure.
Through Malcolm’s journey, starting from his rural Michigan household, tracing through his time in Boston, pilgrimage to Mecca, and all the way through his activist years on the streets of Harlem, the film offers a glimpse of the landscapes and backdrops that were formative for the life of the legendary activist. The array of locations where the filming of ‘Malcolm X’ took place hold a significant place in understanding what shaped Malcolm’s life and the history of America as well, which inspired us to delve into them in detail. Here’s everything we found out!
Malcolm X Filming Locations
The filming of ‘Malcolm X’ took place in four countries: the US, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and South Africa. Although the early youth of Malcolm is set in Boston, director Spike Lee and cinematographer Ernest Dickerson shot those scenes in and around Manhattan and Queens in New York City, the principal filming location where the majority of the story is set otherwise. Production of the movie took place from September 16, 1991, to January 26, 1992. Let us take you through the varied details!
The majority of the film is shot in several cities in the state of New York, especially in New York City. The Dudley Street Station in the opening of the film, which is actually located in Boston, Massachusetts, was shot using New York City transit trains in Brooklyn. Malcolm’s childhood home in Nebraska was filmed at a property in Peekskill in northwestern Westchester County. The burglary at Beacon Hill, Boston, following Malcolm’s return from Harlem, was shot in Park Avenue, Manhattan.
Two of the iconic New York City buildings which have fallen to the grace of the past, Hotel Diplomat and Lenox Lounge, can also be seen in the film. The period between Malcolm’s release from the prison to his assassination is mostly set in and around a few of the famous landmarks in New York City. Malcolm’s lectures were filmed at Columbia University, and his first date with Betty Shabazz (Angela Bassett) was filmed in the American Museum of Natural History, Manhattan.
The iconic march scene in the film, from the police station to the hospital, was filmed in Harlem by the renowned Apollo Theater. The assassination of Malcolm was filmed at the exteriors of Audobon Ballroom, Manhattan, whereas the interior shots were taken in the now-demolished Diplomat Hotel.
In addition, a few scenes set in Boston were also shot in the neighborhood of Ridgewood in Queens. Other locations in the state of New York that served as one of the filming sites of the Spike Lee directorial are Hempstead House and Port Washington in Lond Island, Bushwick in Brooklyn, Lagrangeville in Dutchess County, and Washington Heights and the Central Park West in Manhattan.
Other Locations in the US
Apart from the state of New York, several scenes of ‘Malcolm X’ were shot in the states of Connecticut and New Jersey. The town of Essex in Middlesex County served as a filming site for the film. Additionally, East Jersey State Prison, located in the city of Rahway in southern Union County, New Jersey, doubled up as Charleston State Prison for the film. A few scenes were also shot at the unincorporated community of Avenel in New Jersey.
Mecca, Saudi Arabia
Regarded as the holiest city in Islam, Mecca in Saudi Arabia had a significant part to play in the filming of ‘Malcolm X.’ The filming at Mecca was considered improbable because non-Muslims, including Lee, weren’t allowed inside the city. Lee’s perseverance earned him permission to film in the city. Thus, the production team hired a second unit crew to make the filming possible, which has really enriched the grandeur of the film. The pilgrimage of Malcolm at Mecca was shot astonishingly, adding to the epic quality of the film.
In one of the most aesthetically pleasing shots in the film, cinematographer Ernest Dickerson captures the beauty of the Great Mosque of Muhammad Ali Pasha, located within the Citadel of Salah al‑Din al‑Ayyubi. The filming at Cairo was also pivotal for the epic narrative for the film, since it helped to portray how Malcolm finds a home in various holy places irrespective of the boundaries of the continents.
Johannesburg, South Africa
The epilogue of the film was shot in the townships of Alexandra and Soweto in Johannesburg, South Africa. In a cameo appearance, Nelson Mandela appears in front of a classroom, quoting Malcolm X, presenting the relevance of Malcolm’s vision, regardless of the geographical boundaries. Filmed at Phakamani Combined School, the epilogue is shot as a tribute to Malcolm X, in a different timeline, to emphasize the timeless values he has propagated till his death.
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