Why James Baldwin Walked Away From Writing The Movie on Malcolm X’s Life

james baldwin and allan warren
Tremain Prioleau II
February 13, 2024

Baldwin was Malcolm X's friend, so he sought to depict the icon accurately in the movie about his life. However, Baldwin quickly learned that Hollywood wasn’t interested in accuracy.

Baldwin intercepted a memo sent to his producer advising the writer to fabricate Malcolm’s life. Baldwin was supposed to write that Black and white people had both betrayed Malcolm and that his trip to Mecca had nothing to do with his politics. They wanted to strip away pieces of Malcolm to fit their Hollywood agenda.

Baldwin had been given a technical expert to assist with the script. Baldwin knew this expert was nothing more than a literary overseer. So, as white Hollywood kept intruding on his creativity, Baldwin took away their power.

“I simply walked out, taking my original script with me,” wrote Baldwin. The project would go through years of development before finally being realized by Spike Lee in 1992. But Baldwin’s decision to withhold his labor and talent from Hollywood’s racist machine paved the way for Malcolm X’s legacy to be honored.

Baldwin refused to create a film that would serve white supremacy’s agenda. His community came first, even before his art, and denying his labor to racist producers illustrates the power we all have in taking our talents where they’re deserved.

We have a quick favor to ask:

PushBlack is a nonprofit dedicated to raising up Black voices. We are a small team but we have an outsized impact:

  • We reach tens of millions of people with our BLACK NEWS & HISTORY STORIES every year.
  • We fight for CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM to protect our community.
  • We run VOTING CAMPAIGNS that reach over 10 million African-Americans across the country.

And as a nonprofit, we rely on small donations from subscribers like you.

With as little as $5 a month, you can help PushBlack raise up Black voices. It only takes a minute, so will you please ?

Share This Article: