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By Kalamu ya Salaam, WordUp Kalamu’s Words


“I put his head sort of on my lap. I just hoped and prayed he was still alive. It was hard to tell. He was having difficulty breathing. And other people came and they tore open the shirt. I could see that he was hit so myany times.”

This is a description of the death of El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, bka Malcolm X. Who said these words?

A. Betty Shabazz, Malcom’s wife who was present with their children when Malcolm was assassinated.

B. Gene Roberts, an undercover police agent who had infiltrated Malcolm’s organization and was attempting to save Malcolm with mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

C. Yuri Kochiyama, a Japanese-American member of Malcom’s organization who was present in the Audubon Ballroom on February 21, 1965.

If you have seen Spike Lee‘s movie Malcolm X you will be forgiven believing the answer is A-Betty Shabazz. If you have seen the death scene photo of a man leaning over Malcolm desperately trying to revive him, it is understandable that you believe it is B-Gene Roberts. But actually, the correct answer is C-Yuri Kochiyama, a follower and supporter of Malcolm X.

Why did Spike Lee lie?

English: Spike Lee

English: Spike Lee (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yes, I said “lie”! What else would you call it? Photos from the grisly death scene clearly show Malcolm’s head cradled in Ms. Kochiyama’s lap. Spike Lee’s colorful and fictionalized pseudo-biography brazenly liquidates Ms. Kochiyama and replaces the truth with a lie. It’s a lie because Spike Lee knew better and chose to misrepresent the truth. Spike’s lie is particularly troubling when we consider 1. Lee argued a Black director should do the Malcolm X movie because no White director could honestly portray the real story of Malcolm X, and 2. Lee had been active in fanning the flames of Black/Korean clashes and antagonisms in New York.

Spike said Malcolm was a Black man and in the process of zoot suiting and focusing on the Nation of Islam, Spike completely ignored the internationalist that Malcolm became, as a result, one could see the movie and never know that Yuri Kochiyama was a welcomed and active member of Malcolm’s organization, the OAAU. Although Spike Lee is not an elected leader, he is, unquestionably, revered as a major force in the imaging of Black people and has often cast himself (or agreed to be cast) as a spokesperson for a “Black” point of view.

Malcolm died trying to tell us something important, trying to lead us away from a morbid fascination with color and a limited conception of our struggle. Using the camera, the editing booth and deliberate falsification of facts, Spike Lee re-assassinated Malcolm X the internationalist. Why? Who knows. Spike may not know. But I’m willing to bet that a racial focus devoid of progressive politics had a lot to do with Spike doing the wrong thing. 

About the Author:

VIDEO: Poet Maya WegerifNew Orleans writer, filmmaker and educator, Kalamu ya Salaam is co-director of Students at the Center, a writing program in the New Orleans public schools. Kalamu is the moderator of neo•griot, an information blog for black writers and supporters of our literature worldwide


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