At first glance, Michael Wynn’s short film, Malcolm Speaks, appears to be simply actor Micahel Wynn (credited as Michael X) reenacting Malcolm X’s famous House Negro Field Negro speech. But Wynn is able to connect Malcolm’s words from 1963 to today. The central tenant of Malcolm X’s House Negro Field Negro speech, if you’re unfamiliar, is that the Black community in the United States could be divided into two groups: the House Negro and the Field Negro as they were during early American slavery.
The House Negro are the slaves who lived in their master’s home. They lived near their master and loved their master more than their master loved them. They identified with the master, and when challenged to separate or leave, they asked, “why?”
The Field Negro lived in the master’s fields instead of the master’s house. They ate the master’s leftovers, such as the discarded innards of the pigs (aka chitlins). They were hated by the master, and they prayed for the demise of the master.
Again, Malcolm Speaks is more than actor Michael X taking on the appearance of Malcolm X and merely reciting the speech. In a “pop-up video” style, Michael calls out essential lines of text and provides historical and modern images of the black struggle in America.
“…the Black community…could be divided into two groups: the House Negro and the Field Negro…”
If you know Malcolm X, you know in this speech, he speaks for the Field Negro and calls out the modern-day House Negros, whose job is to “keep the field in check.” The film’s imagery points out that this caste system between the House and Field still exists with images of the likes of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
In Malcolm Speaks, Michael X gives a stirring performance as Malcolm X. The background crowd noises didn’t feel organic to the speech, but the use of title cards and photos effectively reinforced many of Malcolm’s points. As a result, I came away with a better understanding of Malcolm’s speech and its relevance today.
I’ll be honest. I disagree with vastly more of Malcolm’s conclusions than I agree. But, whether you agree with him or not, Malcolm X is an essential figure in the struggle of Black Americans and the Civil Rights Movement. You can’t criticize the man unless you understand the man and know the words he said. Like any good debate, you’ll walk away with a better, more nuanced understanding of the issues of race today.
Aside from watching the actual speech, Malcolm Speaks gives us a flavor of Malcolm X. Wynn places the man’s words in a modern context, showing that not much has changed from the 1960s. In the end, hearing Malcolm X’s words in context will better serve your ability to praise or criticize him and the race problems in America today.
For screening information, visit the Malcolm Speaks official website.
"…you'll walk away with a better, more nuanced understanding of the issues of race..."