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Civil rights leader Malcolm X would have celebrated his 95th birthday on May 19. Many are sharing tributes to the slain activist, who was murdered in 1965 at the Audubon Ballroom in New York City. 

Erykah Badu, Common, Reverend Al Sharpton, Angela Davis, and others will participate in a special virtual tribute to Malcolm X organized by the Shabazz Center. The event will take place on The Shabazz Center’s Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter channels at 3 p.m. ET. Others may mark the day by watching Spike Lee’s epic 1992 biopic, Malcolm X. 

It took decades to turn Malcolm X’s life story into a film 

Malcolm X
Malcolm X in 1964 | Truman Moore/The LIFE Images Collection via Getty Images/Getty Images

In the early 1960s, Malcolm X — who was born Malcolm Little in 1925 and eventually adopted the name El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz — began working with author Alex Haley on his autobiography. The Autobiography of Malcolm X was published shortly after his death and became an instant classic. 

Hollywood producers were interested in making a film of the book, which describes Malcolm X’s childhood in the Midwest, his rebellious youth in Boston, his conversion to Islam when his was in prison, and his rise within the Nation of Islam and his emergence as a civil rights leader. The rights were acquired in 1967, The Guardian noted, but the film never got off the ground, despite the involvement over the years of James Baldwin, Sidney Lumet, and Richard Pryor (who was at one point tapped to play Malcolm X). 

In 1990, Lee — who’d recently released his award-winning 1989 movie Do the Right Thing — came on as director. Making the film wasn’t easy, and Lee ran into conflicts with both the studio and the Nation of Islam. The 3-hour and 22-minute film, with Denzel Washington in the title role, was eventually released in 1992. 

Where to stream ‘Malcolm X’  

Denzel Washington in Malcolm X
Denzel Washington in a scene from Malcolm X | Largo International NV/Getty Images

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Malcolm X made $48.2 million at the global box office. Washington earned a best actor nomination at the Academy Awards, but he ended up losing to Al Pacino for Scent of a Woman.

“I’m not the only one who thinks Denzel was robbed on that one,” Lee later told DVDtalk

You can judge Washington’s performance for yourself by streaming Malcolm X. The film isn’t currently available to watch for free on Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime. But you can rent or buy it on Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, and YouTube.  

Netflix doesn’t have Lee’s fictionalized take on Malcolm X’s life. But earlier in 2020 it did release Who Killed Malcolm X?, a six-episode docuseries that examines the circumstances surrounding his assassination and raises questions about who was really responsible. In addition, Amazon Prime has Death of a Prophet, a 1981 TV docudrama starring Morgan Freeman as Malcolm X. 

In 2017, a scripted series based on the book Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, was in the works, according to the Hollywood Reporter. The status of that project is unclear.  

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