Malcolm X | 1992
Spike Lee’s long-cherished epic biopic of the black leader and activist was filmed (and not without a struggle: see By Any Means Necessary – Lee’s book on the making of the film) largely around New York.
The grand opening shot is supposed to be ‘Dudley Street Station, Roxbury’, in a black area of Boston, but is actually Brooklyn, with NYC transit trains painted as Boston trains of the Forties.
The childhood home of Malcolm Little, the name later rejected by the activist, in ‘Omaha, Nebraska’, filmed in Peekskill, on Route 9, New York State, on the east bank of the Hudson.
The bravura dance sequence in Boston’s ‘Roseland’ is the ballroom of the since-demolished Diplomat Hotel, which stood at 108 West 43rd Street in New York.
The ‘New England’ shoreline is at Hempstead House, Sands Point Preserve, Port Washington on the north shore of Long Island.
When Malcolm X returns to Boston after falling foul of a Harlem numbers boss, the burglary at ‘Beacon Hill, Boston’ was shot at a classy apartment on Manhattan’s Park Avenue.
In New York, Malcolm X (Denzel Washington) gravitates to Harlem. The ‘Paradise Bar’, where he hangs out and begins running numbers, was the Lenox Lounge, Harlem’s art deco Thirties gem which stood at 288 Lenox Avenue, between 124th and 125th Streets.
Founded in 1939, the bar served as venue for performances by many great jazz artists, including Billie Holiday, Miles Davis and John Coltrane, attracting the likes not only of the real Malcolm X, but Harlem Renaissance writers such as James Baldwin and Langston Hughes.
Its fortunes waned over the years, but got a major renovation in the 1990s. Despite this, the lounge closed at the end of 2012 and the building was gutted. In an unforgivable act of vandalism, the Lounge was completely demolished in 2017 – unbelievable.
‘Charleston State Prison’, where X converts to Islam, is Rahway State Penitentiary, Rahway, on Route 1, New Jersey, on the River Rahway.
The reborn Malcolm X lectures at Columbia University, 114th-120th Streets, between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue (seen in Ghostbusters and Spider-Man), and tentatively enjoys a first date with Betty Shabazz (Angela Bassett) at the American Museum of Natural History, Central Park West at West 79th Street.
The ecstatic welcome for Joe Louis, and the march from the police station to the hospital after the release of brother Johnson, filmed on 125th Street, Harlem, by the legendary Apollo Theater, 253 West 125th Street. The Apollo’s famous Amateur Nights, begun in 1934, launched the careers of artists such as Ella Fitzgerald and James Brown. More recently, the likes of Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Tony Bennett and The Strokes have appeared.
The Audobon Ballroom, 3940 Broadway at West 166th Street in Washington Heights, scene of Malcolm X’s assassination, was actually used for exterior shots. The Audobon was acquired by the city in the mid-Seventies, and Columbia University currently has plans to develop the site as a research complex.
The assassination inside the ‘Audobon’ was filmed in the Diplomat Ballroom again.
The real Mecca scenes were filmed by a second unit in Saudi Arabia, as only a totally Islamic crew was allowed into the city. Malcolm X visits Egypt, where he worships at the Mohammed Ali Mosque (known as the Alabaster Mosque) in Cairo.
The epilogue was filmed at Phakamani Combined School, Soweto in South Africa, where Nelson Mandela speaks the film’s closing lines, and in the Alexandra township of Johannesburg, where Mandela had lived for a while on moving to the city in 1941.