A little bit of Mecca came to “Malcolm X” last week, as a representative from the holy city of Islam turned up for the West Coast premiere of the slain civil rights leader’s biopic.
Dr. Shihab Jamjoom, deputy minister of foreign affairs for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Information, flew to L.A. specifically for the launch of Spike Lee’s epic rendition of the controversial Muslim activist.
“Malcolm X” was the first feature film ever shot in Muhammad’s birthplace where Malcolm X made his pilgrimage shortly before he was gunned down in Harlem’s Audubon Ballroom in 1965.
While Jamjoom’s visit had another quest–to stir up possible American investment in Saudi Arabia’s manufacturing and engineering businesses–his goal of attracting films to his country had at best only limited success.
“My purpose in coming to America was for this premiere,” he said. “This film is very important to our people. It is particularly important to me because I was a student of cinema and theater at UCLA and USC at the time Malcolm X was alive.
“It was the early ’60s. I watched him on TV and heard him speak. I saw my friends from Saudi Arabia who were much darker than I, not allowed on busses or in the cinema,” he said. “I moved here in ’64 and experienced the Watts riots.” Personal account aside, Jamjoom said the film had an important statement to make about the Nation of Islam and it was a chance for Mecca to contribute.
But restrictions were placed on Lee while filming there. His crew inside the holy city had to be Muslim, which meant even Lee was not allowed.
As for future films in Saudi Arabia, “We are not necessarily encouraging people to come just for the sake of shooting there,” said Jamjoom. Lee was welcome because of the specific subject matter; because “‘Malcolm X’ had something important to say. But we would not have wanted him to make ‘Jungle Fever’ there,” Jamjoom added.
“We cannot just open our society to any type of filming, even if there would be some type of monetary value. Tunisia and Morocco fight for that business,” he said. “This is not an issue for us.”