‘Who Killed Malcolm X?’: 5 Key Points from Episode One: ‘Marked Man’
Netflix’s ‘Who Killed Malcolm X’ is a six-part documentary original series which follows veteran activist Abdur Rahman Muhammad in his attempt to uncover one of the greatest assassinations of the 20th century. Malcolm X was assassinated on February 25 1965 at New York’s Audubon Ballroom in Upper Harlem. It’s believed some members of the Nation of Islam were involved as well as the political establishment. At the time, Congress of Racial Equality Chairman James Farmer believed it was a political killing.
“The official account of Malcolm X isn’t true.”
Muhammad says Malcolm’s death is in fact unsolved. Convinced it’s a cover-up, for that, we discover he’s being spending the best part of thirty years trying to find out who he believes has gotten away with it. Muhammad is an independent researcher, his endeavour comes from an unbridled passion and homage to a man that’s outrightly influenced his politics, activism and insights into the African-American experience.
There’s the promise of opposition from within the Black Muslim community towards his investigative crusade. Those still old enough to remember, if not the day, the gaping hole left by Malcolm’s death. The wounds are still very much open.
And then there’s the promise of surprise, which unsurprisingly we shouldn’t expect in the first episode, but a slow build of what is to come keeps one lingering.
Here are the 5 key take away points from ‘Marked Man’:
1. Abdur-Rahman Muhammad knows what he’s talking about
Historian David Garrow says, “Muhammad is without question the most knowledgable person about Malcolm’s murder. …He has invested hundreds of hours tracking down first-hand evidence of the conspiracy to kill Malcolm X…No one alive has done more to solve Malcolm’s killing than Abdur Rahman Muhammad”. We also come to terms with how lonely Muhammad’s pursuit actually is, which is what makes this documentary a pretty admirable one.
2. Malcolm X knew he was going to be murdered.
The almost-prophetic nature the way the series starts is not wholly lost on me. Malcolm X knew his days were numbered even as far as that fateful day. It made up the many conversations that he had with his wife Betty Shabbaz. It’s safe to say that he probably knew as early as 1964. Author Tariq Ali recalls when Malcolm spoke Oxford University and said upon leaving “they’re going to kill me soon.”
3. The set-up of security at the ballroom is suspicious….
The episode reveals that the security set-up at the Audubon Ballroom made the final attempt on his life (there had been several beforehand) possible. According to the documentary, there were only two uniformed police officers elsewhere in the building, when an event of this nature at this particular spot would have had two dozen more.
. ….as is the investigation into Malcolm’s murder
Witnesses and onlookers described the nonchalant attitude of police officers who first arrived at the scene as shocking and abysmal. And then there was the botched securing of the crime scene- the ballroom was cleared up for an event scheduled that very evening . While the police initially were looking for five assassins, in the end they caught three suspects, who they believed were responsible for Malcolm’s assassination. While most historians say there were five assassins from Harlem, Muhammad believes otherwise (no spoilers here!)
4. “If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed and loving the people doing the oppressing.”
Off the back of Malcolm’s controversial ‘chickens come home to roost’ comments, in the wake of US President Kennedy’s assassination, there was an arguably scathing media coverage by mainstream press. The documentary argues that the killing was taken seriously and was widely regarded as intra-gang warfare among radical blacks. The bottom line is that for decades, white prosecution authorities haven’t taken a serious interest in investigating Malcolm’s murder. But that could all change…
5. There are no statute of limitations on murder
There is always a chance the case could be reopened. And in fact the Manhattan District Attorney’s office is seriously thinking of reopening it; given overlooked evidence from the documentary. It would not only be a fitting homage to a man that has inspired generations of black activism in the US and around the world, but for the deaths of some black activists who have died violent deaths, within recent years. The outcry slogan, ‘Black Lives Matter’ still reverberates today. Police brutality is still at bay, an unjust criminal system in the West is still at large, and the fight for social and economic equality continues. These were the core issues that Malcolm X spent his life fighting for and against. Providing closure on this very dark period in US history is a fitting commemoration to what he represented. This documentary could held do just that.