What Has All This Got To Do With Malcolm X?
Squall 4, April/May 1993, pg. 4.
It was always likely to be a movie in itself, sitting there in the RIO Cinema with a 98% black audience, on the night Spike Lee’s Malcolm X opened in London.
The crowd were agitated in anticipation, half ready for the celebration of a hero, half ready for a little visual revenge on the white man. On account of not spending enough time in the sun these days, I was one of the very few white people in the audience.
I was sure, from having read Malcolm X’s autobiography, that I would have been safe from any hysteria if he was there in person, but not so sure what bitterness Spike Lee’s adaptation might inflame.
The opening credits came up and there in front of us was the video footage that sparked the Los Angeles riots. Again and again they replayed the LAPD officers savagely beating a defenceless Rodney King. The incident was, of course, outrageous. Not a politician’s ’outrageous’ but a human being’s OUT bloody RAGEOUS. The rowdy jiving atmosphere of the cinema fell into a heavy silence.
To Spike Lee's credit, his movie went on to adapt the autobiography in a way true to Malcolm X, and in a way that us honkys in the audience were less likely to become the present symbols of the justifiable outrage. Malcolm X was against prejudice in all its guises. The fact that he was assassinated by black people showed that prejudice and injustice, although manifest in the Black and White issue, were not exclusive to it.
After the movie I met up with a mate who said he’d steered clear of the opening night because he did not trust the volatility of the audience. He had grown up in London and been the subject of his (un)fair share of racial abuse. However, he remembered white friends who had stood by him and fought with him and that certain other white folk were also the victims of prejudice and injustice.
“If Spike Lee had concentrated on Malcolm X as 'white man hater',” he said, “then it would have been a match to dry kindling, as far as current racial tension on the streets goes”.
My friend expressed gladness that Spike Lee showed Malcolm X for what he really was; a campaigner for human dignity.
So, what has all this got to do with SQUALL? Well, the very next day I was in a homeless families unit talking to Hanna Dalton, an Education liaison officer for Travellers in London.
“I’ve seen some blatant discrimination against travellers before,” she said, “but the most violent I’ve ever seen was when the police went berserk in a bean-field near Stonehenge in 1985. It was horrendous”.
Like the Rodney King beating, this event was captured by video cameras. Anyone who has seen the footage will not forget that men, women and children, as defenceless as Rodney King, were beaten with truncheons and dragged along by their hair. Channel 4 showed the film after the event and no-one; politicians, police chiefs or judiciary, could justify the hysterical bloodshed. But, similar to the Rodney King episode, the policemen involved got away with their psychosis without even a caution.
Having witnessed such episodes, it is far easier to realise that legislative efforts to rid this country of travellers, are simply a legal face masking a bigoted prejudice that has manifest itself in various guises throughout history.
As Betty Shabazz (MalcolmX’s widow) said in a recent interview:
“We all have the right to be on this earth, regardless of our ethnic origin. God never put one ethnic group on earth to be dominant over any other. Malcolm was for freedom.”