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ArtsCultureFilm & TV

Who Killed Malcolm X? [Netflix Documentary Review] 

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ArtsCultureFilm & TV

Who Killed Malcolm X? [Netflix Documentary Review] 

The series does a deep-dive into the life of the charismatic leader, and makes some dramatic discoveries about who might have really killed him.

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The series does a deep-dive into the life of the charismatic leader, and makes some dramatic discoveries about who might have really killed him.

Netflix’s new documentary, “Who Killed Malcolm X?”, has been generating headlines for its investigation into the civil rights activist’s assassination in 1965. But what does the documentary actually say about his murder? And is it worth watching?

An introduction to Malcolm X

Malcolm X was a prominent activist during the civil rights movement, who inspired millions with his advocacy of black political radicalism, as opposed to the nonviolent ideology of figures such as Martin Luther King Jr. 

He is known for being a passionate and firebrand proponent of black empowerment, firstly as a minister in the Nation of Islam and later as a political leader in his own right after his split from the organisation. Celebrated as a Muslim icon for black empowerment, his legacy and ideology still reverberates around the world today.

The documentary’s investigation into his death

On 21 February 1965, Malcolm X was on stage at the Audubon Ballroom in New York City to speak to a crowd of over four hundred people. While Malcolm and his security detail were distracted by an orchestrated commotion in the crowd, he was shot and killed at close range by several men carrying a shotgun and handguns.

In the ensuing chaos, one man named Talmadge Hayer (later known as Mujahid Abdul Halim) was captured outside the venue. Two other men were later arrested, called Norman 3X Butler and Thomas 15X Johnson (who later took the names of Muhammad Abdul Aziz and Khalil Islam, respectably). All three men were members of the Nation of Islam. They were eventually tried and convicted for his murder, and received 20-years-to-life sentences. 

However, the new Netflix documentary upends this accepted narrative of the civil rights leader’s assassination. 

The documentary argues that Aziz and Islam (who had always maintained their innocence) were not involved with Malcolm’s murder. The documentary points to the scant evidence linking the pair to the crime, who both had alibis at the time of the murder. 

Halim, who was the only person to confess to his involvement in Malcolm X’s killing, himself claimed that Aziz and Islam were not involved with the assassination. In an affidavit made in 1977, Halim stated that he had planned the hit with four other named individuals, not including Aziz and Islam.

The show mainly focuses on finding the person named as the wielder of the shotgun, as the autopsy report of Malcolm X stated that it was a shotgun pellet which killed him. The alleged assailant is revealed to be a man named William X Bradley, or Al-Mustafa Shabazz.

The man behind the docuseries, Abdur-Rahman Muhammad, digs deeper into the alleged man behind the shotgun. He discovers that Shabazz perpetrated a number of violent crimes during his lifetime and went to prison on numerous occasions.

Muhammad also finds out that Shabazz’s potential responsibility for the assassination was an open secret in the Newark community, although it seems that no one had held him accountable for it. It is also revealed that Shabazz eventually turned his life around, becoming a revered member of his community. However, Shabazz died in 2018 before Muhammad had a chance to question him about the assassination, with the truth potentially dying with him.

But the story does not end there. Aziz is still trying to clear his name from the assassination, having been released from prison on parole in 1985 (while Islam died in 2009). Muhammad, with Aziz’s permission, submitted a petition to reexamine his conviction.

Following the dramatic new information revealed by the documentary and the petition, the Manhattan district attorney has announced that it will review the case and will consider reopening it.

Is the documentary worth watching?

“Who Killed Malcom X?” is not merely a true-crime investigation into the circumstances of Malcolm’s murder. It also catalogues his life as one of the most important figures in the struggle for civil rights in America. Those expecting six episodes of twists and turns of a fulsome investigation into the assassination are likely to be left disappointed, as the meat of the investigation sometimes feels stretched out.

However, the documentary provides the viewer with a rich biography of Malcolm X at a time when he was at his most influential, elevating the series into indispensable viewing.

The documentary tells the story of his meteoric rise as a figure of prominence in the Nation of Islam under the tutelage of its leader, Elijah Muhammad. It then details his acrimonious split from the group and the extreme difficulties he faced in the run up to his death.

His story is told in chief by Muhammad, whose passion for the cause of Malcolm X drives him to seek justice against those allegedly involved in the leader’s killing, and which makes for compelling viewing.

The series also provides a welcomed wider context by detailing the higher forces working against Malcolm X, as it is revealed that the FBI had placed informants within his network of close advisers and had wiretapped him.

However, most importantly, the documentary introduces Malcolm’s message to a whole new generation. The fight against police brutality and racial segregation are just as important today as they were when he was alive, and through this documentary Malcolm X’s revolutionary ideology has the chance to underpin the struggle for many years to come. 

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