Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1729
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 Malcolm pull off several big burglaries and eventually are caught and sent to jail.
Malcolm is in prison, where he meets Luther, an older man who takes Malcolm into his care. He encourages Malcolm to control his anger, to take better care of his health, and to read. He tells Malcolm that white people want black people to fight against one another, want black people to use their fists instead of their brains. He also asks Malcolm why he wants to straighten his hair. Does he think that makes him white? He encourages Malcolm to be proud that he is black. Malcolm comes to trust Luther. He starts eating better, stops putting chemicals on his hair, and reads every book he finds in the library. He signs up for correspondence courses. Luther tells Malcolm that God is black and that white men are the devil.
After much indoctrination, Luther tells Malcolm that he has written to ‘‘the Leader’’ about Malcolm, and that Malcolm should expect to receive a letter from him soon. Later, Malcolm practices his writing skills by responding to the Leader’s correspondence. Shortly after, Luther leaves jail, a free man. Soon to follow him is Malcolm.
Malcolm meets Sidney, Luther’s son. Sidney is trying to start a newspaper for the Black Muslims. Luther asks Malcolm to help Sidney in this effort. Once, when they are out on the streets of Harlem delivering the newspaper, Malcolm goes to Archie’s apartment only to find the man suffering from memory loss and doing very poorly.
At this point, there is a scene that introduces Betty, who is teaching a class. Luther introduces her to Malcolm. This scene is short and immediately breaks away to a street scene in which two black men are fighting. White policemen arrive, and when the crowd tries to manage the fight for themselves, telling the policemen that they are not needed, one of the policemen hits a Muslim man across the head. Sidney is there and immediately runs across the street to telephone Malcolm. The next scene takes place in front of the police station where Malcolm controls a group of Muslims who refuse to leave until they have seen the Muslim minister who was hit over the head. The Muslims win their case and because of their insistence that the Muslim minister be taken to the hospital, the man’s life is saved. The incident is broadcast in the news, giving Malcolm credit, placing media focus on him.
Malcolm runs into Laura again. This time she looks haggard and old. She’s become a drug junkie under the influence of her white boyfriend who has since deserted her. Malcolm tries to convert her to Islam, but he is unsuccessful. Laura says it is too late.
Malcolm and Betty are married. There are several brief scenes of Malcolm talking to the press, while intermittent shots portray racial bigotry and Civil Rights activities. Malcolm’s popularity is growing.
Sidney is shown talking on the phone to his father. He does not like what his father is telling him. Sidney defends Malcolm but is disillusioned by the time he hangs up the phone. Next, in another scene, Betty softly complains that Malcolm is spending too much time away from his family. She is also growing suspicious about Luther and the Muslim movement. She wonders why all the papers carry stories about Malcolm except the paper that Sidney and Malcolm created, the Black Muslim newspaper. She questions Malcolm about Luther. Malcolm is oblivious of any dissention. He tries to convince Betty not to worry.
Betty is not convinced by Malcolm’s lack of concern. She goes to Sidney in the next scene to confront him. He admits that he has heard some talk in the movement that could be defined as jealousy over Malcolm’s popularity. Betty tells Sidney that she’s heard people say that Malcolm is a danger to the movement and that he should be expelled.
The news that President Kennedy has been shot is acknowledged. The dictum goes out that no Black Muslim should make an official comment about the incident. In the next scene, Malcolm is answering questions from the press. He talks about the assassination, calling it ‘‘a terrible kind of justice.’’ In the following scene, Luther is angry with Malcolm for having broken the rule of silence. This is yet another example that Malcolm is not working within the dictates of the Leader, or Honorable Messenger. Malcolm, as punishment, is told he cannot speak publicly for ninety days. In the next scene, Sidney tells Malcolm that he was told to place a bomb in Malcolm’s car.
Malcolm confronts Luther and has his suspicions confirmed. Luther is ambitious. He is not as passionate as Malcolm about saving the people. Luther is more hypocritical about his faith. After meeting with Luther, Malcolm tells Betty that he is going to start his own branch of the Muslim faith. Sidney joins him.
Malcolm travels to Mecca. Up until that time, Malcolm had preached hatred of white people. But in Mecca, he befriends people of all races and sees people from all over the world coming together. He returns to the United States a changed man with a new vision. Sidney hears that Malcolm now loves white people, and he thinks that Malcolm has sold out. Sidney turns to armed robbery to support himself since leaving both his father and Malcolm. He eventually is sentenced to prison. Malcolm visits him there.
Malcolm is at home with Betty when a Molotov cocktail crashes through the window, setting the house on fire. Malcolm calls the fire department, but the truck never comes. The next scene returns to where the script started, the day that Malcolm is to speak at Audubon Ballroom. After telephoning Betty and asking her to attend, he is shown standing on the stage as a volley of bullets hit him.