Discuss how the film Malcolm X addresses the issue of masculinity as it progresses.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Spike Lee's film about the Civil Rights Leader has a unique perspective on masculinity.  At the start of the film, a young Malcolm Little recognizes masculinity through the personage of his father, Earl.  A preacher who stood tall, both literally and figuratively, against White intimidation, Earl's death represents to Malcolm that there is a fundamental threat about what it means to be a Black man in America at the time period.  As Malcolm grows up and succumbs to life on the street, masculinity is defined by social standards in terms of fitting the stereotype of what African- Americans were to wear in clothes, hair style, as well as placing emphasis on spending money freely and then moving towards the realm of crime in order to gain more money and power.  Malcolm's life as a street hustler is one in which being a man was defined by social standards, such as ensuring that he has a White girlfriend.  When Malcolm is in jail, his initial demonstration of masculinity was evidenced in causing disruption in the prison and being sentenced to solitary confinement.  As he becomes introduced to the Nation of Islam and the power of the Muslim religion in jail, masculinity is defined as total submission to Allah as well as the Honorable Elijah Muhammad.  Masculinity is ensured to be geared towards this end as Malcolm progresses through the ranks of the Nation of Islam.  Once he ascends to a certain position in the Nation of Islam, Malcolm's understanding of masculinity is one in which he recognizes that "being a man" involves standing for what he believes is right, leading him to leave the organization.  From this point towards the end of the film, El -Hajj Malik El- Shabazz defines masculinity as staying true to the Muslim faith and standing for a sense of social justice that flies in the face of many oppressive voices.  It is in this light where the film's vision of masculinity is something of a legacy that Malcolm leaves for the ages.


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