Study Guide

One Day When I was Lost: A Scenario

by James Baldwin

One Day When I was Lost: A Scenario Summary

Introduction

James Baldwin’s screenplay One Day, When I Was Lost: A Scenario was adapted from Alex Haley’s Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965). Although One Day, When I Was Lost: A Scenario was written as a movie script, it has never been produced solely on its own merits. One Day, When I Was Lost: A Scenario came closest to being realized on the screen in the documentaries Malcolm X (1972), cowritten by Baldwin and Arnold Perl and the rewritten version by Spike Lee, Malcolm X (1992).

Malcolm X had been a friend and hero of Baldwin’s, so it was with relish that Baldwin immersed himself in Haley’s Malcolm X in his attempts to extrapolate a dramatic representation. At first, the script was supposed to have been written as a stage play in conjunction with Haley and Elia Kazan, a famous Broadway director. However, before the writing had begun, Columbia Pictures bought the movie rights of Haley’s book and asked Baldwin if he would be interested in writing the screenplay.

Although urged by friends and family not to accept the Hollywood offer, Baldwin, who had always wanted to write a script for a movie and who also believed that he owed it to the memory of Malcolm X to write it, decided in Columbia’s favor. He would regret his decision, as the movie studio’s demands for changes in his script would frustrate his creative spirit and his sense of loyalty to his friend, Malcolm.

Baldwin’s belief that Hollywood was ready for a truthful encounter with the facts of Malcolm X’s life was soon diminished. One of Baldwin’s strongest battles with the studio was fought over the starring role in the film. At one point, Columbia supposedly went so far as to suggest a white actor, who would be, according to Baldwin’s biographer, David Leeming, ‘‘darkened up a bit’’ to portray the character of Malcolm X. After repeated communications from Columbia suggesting revisions in his script, Baldwin proclaimed that he would write it in his own words or not at all. In reaction, Columbia sent another writer, Arnold Perl, to collaborate with Baldwin. Baldwin resented this, believing that only he could be true to Malcolm X’s story.

Adding to his depression and anger with Columbia was the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., which occurred in the middle of Baldwin’s attempts to write the script. Shortly after King’s assassination, Leeming states, Baldwin ‘‘took an overdose of sleeping pills.’’ Upon recovering, Baldwin abandoned the dream of a Hollywood movie. Baldwin went on to finish One Day, When I Was Lost: A Scenario which was published in text form only.

One Day When I was Lost: A Scenario Summary

Part 1
One Day, When I Was Lost: A Scenario opens in a parking garage, in New York City, with a man (Malcolm X) walking toward, and finally getting into, a car. When the man starts the car, the radio comes on with an announcement that Malcolm X will be speaking at the Audubon Ballroom that evening. The camera then shifts to the side-view mirror and an image of a fire and hooded men on horseback is seen. A young mulatto, pregnant woman tries to run away from the men on horseback, while a male voice shouts: ‘‘Our homeland is in Africa!’’ Next scene in the mirror is a ‘‘beaten, one-eyed black man,’’ who is lying on the tracks of an oncoming streetcar.

The scene then jumps to another time. Malcolm X is in Africa, being welcomed by an enthusiastic crowd. An African ruler gives Malcolm a new name: Omowale, which means, ‘‘the son who has returned.’’ Another quick scene shows Malcolm receiving yet another name: El Hajj Malik El Shabazz, his Muslim name. Then a shot to a family Bible in which is inscribed a fourth name: Malcolm Little.

There is another flashback in the side-view mirror. This time it is a dance hall in which Malcolm, who was then referred to as ‘‘Red,’’ is dancing with Laura, a young black woman. Another quick flashback shows Malcolm with a white woman, Sophia. They are in bed. There is a third quick flashback scene in which Malcolm is in jail, fighting, with the crowd calling him Satan.

A more detailed flashback shows Louise and Earl Little, Malcolm’s parents. Louise is pregnant. Earl, a preacher, talks about the movement of black people back to Africa to establish their own nation. In quick succession, the hooded men on horses threaten the Littles, smashing all the windows of their house. Action moves forward. Malcolm is a young child, watching with his brothers and his parents as their house burns down. Also watching from a distance is a group of firemen who have not attempted to put the fire out.

Another scene has Malcolm on a beach, walking with Laura. Malcolm tells Laura that for them to be together, he would have to kidnap her, because her parents want her to marry someone respectable. The flashbacks continue, switching back and forth from Laura and Malcolm to Malcolm’s parents. In one scene, Malcolm’s mother attempts to collect on her husband’s life insurance policy, which is denied her. The insurance agent insists that Earl Little committed suicide. Earl’s body was found on the streetcar tracks. Louise loses her job, and then her children are taken away by a welfare agent. Next, Louise is shown in an asylum.

Malcolm is now in a foster home. He does well in school and is elected president of his class; but when he asks a counselor about becoming a lawyer, the counselor, Mr. Ostrovski, tells him that ‘‘colored people’’ shouldn’t aspire to jobs they’ll never have. With a jump in time, Malcolm is in Boston, learning how to be a good ‘‘darky’’ to win big tips, as he and his friend Shorty work as porters in the men’s restroom of a fancy hotel. Shorty attempts to citify Malcolm, helping him to buy clothes and showing him how to straighten his hair. Malcolm works at various, menial jobs.

Another scene shows Malcolm in a bar in New York, where he meets West Indian Archie, a man old enough to be Malcolm’s father. Archie takes an interest in teaching Malcolm the way of the streets. Archie is a numbers runner, a person who takes bets on certain numbers, an early and illegal form of a lottery.

In a later scene in another bar, Malcolm runs into Laura who is with a white man named Daniel. Laura has grown up, gained confidence. She and Malcolm talk briefly before the scene changes and Malcolm is with Sophia. The scene switches again, this time to Malcolm and Archie laughing at how Malcolm pretended to be crazy to avoid the draft.

Scenes move quickly again: Malcolm selling drugs, stealing, acting as a pimp. Malcolm is then shown out celebrating. He’s won big money on the numbers. Later, Archie questions the legitimacy of Malcolm’s win and accuses Malcolm of cheating. Archie threatens to kill Malcolm, so he and Shorty move back to Boston. Shorty, Sophia, and...

(The entire section is 1729 words.)