Seven Songs for Malcolm X

Reviewed at the Seattle Film Festival, June 3, 1993. Running time: 52 min.

Reviewed at the Seattle Film Festival, June 3, 1993. Running time: 52 min.

Narrators: Giancarlo Esposito (from texts by Malcolm X), Toni Claude Bambara.

With: Betty Shabazz, Spike Lee, Thulani Davis, Greg Tate, Wilfred Little.

Brit helmer John Akomfrah, who made the profoundly impressionistic “Handsworth Songs” with the Black Audio Film Collective, manages to find fresh angles on the now-familiar saga of Malcolm X, but he makes auds work hard for their rewards. Festival life should be healthy, but the short pic’s artsy mix of stark, interpretive tableaux and tersely cut talking heads may even keep it out of mainstream educational circuits.

A more timely release would have helped this stylish docu, although X-followers will seek it out anyway.

Shuffling from arrestingly color-tinted b&w interviews to emblematic, elegantly static moments from Malcolm’s life, pic takes too long to find an engaging rhythm. Scholars will be able to glean some brief but probing quotes from (poorly identified) subjects, such as writers Thulani Davis and Greg Tate, as well as seldom-heard sources such as the leader’s brother, Wilfred Little.

Spike Lee, just releasing his “Malcolm X” at the time he was interviewed for this film, comes across as glib and disinterested, and Malcolm’s widow, Betty Shabazz, is represented by stunningly feeble utterances.

Where film succeeds best is in its subtle evocation of the emotional hangover left by this complex figure’s spiritual transformations and untimely demise. Still, “Seven Songs” will sing mostly to role-model-hungry black men with the staged images of stoical Fruit-of-Islam types standing dolefully by the dead man’s body veering close to unreflective canonization.

Seven Songs for Malcolm X

(British -- Documentary -- Color/B&W -- 16mm)

  • Production: A Black Audio Film Collective (London) production. Produced by Lina Gopaul. Directed by John Akomfrah. Written by Akomfrah, Edward George.
  • Crew: Camera (color/B&W), Arthur Jafa; editor, Joy Chamberlain; music, sound, Trevor Mathison.
  • With:
  • Music By: