Brother Minister: The Assassination of Malcolm X (1994)

“I always knew it would end like this” Malcolm X

The assassination of Malcolm X occurred in a decade fraught with assassinations of several prominent leaders–John Kennedy 1963, Robert Kennedy 1968, Martin Luther King 1968, and Malcolm X 1965. Three men were arrested for the murder of Malcolm X–Norman 3X Butler, Thomas 15X Johnson, and Talmadge Hayer. Hayer was apprehended at the scene. Witnesses later identified Butler and Johnson, but while Hayer confessed to the murder, he denied the other two men were involved. All three men went to trial, were convicted and served lengthy prison sentences.

Brother Minister: The Assassination of Malcolm X, directed by Jefri Aalmuhammed and Jack Baxter explores the murder of this controversial black leader with a brief overview of a difficult life that had taken a number of dramatic twists and turns. Just prior to his death, Malcolm X parted ways from the leader of the Nation of Islam Elijah Muhammad. He had converted to orthodox Islam, and he was moving towards Black Nationalism. There were indications that he was forming an alliance in the Civil Rights movement with Martin Luther King–an alliance that would be “J. Edgar Hoover’s worst nightmare.” Imagine a world in which Malcolm X and King provided strong political leadership for the Black community…And what a tragedy that possibility was stolen.

The film begins with 1993 footage of a ‘closed door’ meeting with the present day leader of the Nation of Islam, Louis Farrakhan preaching to an audience and saying: “Was Malcolm your traitor or was he ours? And if we dealt with him like a nation deals with a traitor, what the H*ll business is it of yours?” From this point, the film peels back the years and delves into the assassination that took place in the Audubon Ballroom in 1965. Eyewitnesses recall that afternoon–including one of Malcolm X’s bodyguards (who was also an undercover police officer), Gene Roberts. There were no police at the door of the ballroom, and security was unusually lax.

While I could have done without the cheesy reenactments that made me think I was watching the History Channel, the film includes many valuable interviews with Malcolm’s friends, and associates. With author Baba Zak A. Kondo (Unraveling the Assassination of Malcolm X) providing extensive analysis, the film unravels a web that includes the now declassified memos and documents from the FBI along with documents from the NYC police department, and a fake, inflammatory letter sent to Elijah Mohammad. FBI documents reveal a perceived need to “prevent the rise of a messiah who could unify and electrify the Black Nationalist movement.” Furthermore, according to the FBI, Malcolm X might be “viewed as such a Messiah.” Kondo explains how counterintelligence (think COINTELPRO) effectively “neutralizes” with methods that “discredit, disrupt and destroy.” Under circumstances such as this–existing resentment, distrust and hate fueled by counterintelligence provocation–the film argues that a potentially bad situation became explosive. With the FBI “exploit[ing] existing weaknesses” the film argues, Malcolm X’s fate–and by extension the fate of the Black Nationalist movement–were effectively sealed. The “Divide and Conquer” strategy is one that was applied and worked so well in destroying the Black Panthers. The claim that the FBI provoked others into murdering Malcolm X–is by its very nature–impossible to prove. Human motivation is complex and difficult to analyze, and this is what makes the film so intriguing and thought-provoking. Watch it and decide for yourself. DVD extras include interviews with James 67 X and Jack Baxter.

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Filed under Documentary, Political/social films

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