Spike Lee brought the life of African-American leader Malcolm X to the big screen in this sprawling, epic biographical drama in 1992. In this extract, Malcolm X is shown preaching the message of the Nation of Islam to the public in several different locations. Denzel Washington, playing Malcolm, presents fiery street talk to passers by and audiences in each location, and Spike Lee's powerful use of camera emphasises this. In each location, camera movement is used in a different manner, with each location progressing in its focus on Malcolm.
In the first location, Malcolm is competing with two other speakers in a crowded street for an audience. The scene is shot in an open format, as the voices of all speakers can be heard simultaneously, in spite of the fact that only one is visible in the frame at a time. All of the speakers are using some sort of platform to stand on, and are at a higher level than the passers-by and crowds of audiences.
The viewer feels as if he/she is seeing through the eyes of a wandering onlooker in a 'point of view' shot (Bordwell & Thompson 2001: 228). The camera is positioned slightly below the eye-level of onlookers, listening to one or another of the speakers. As a result of its height, when looking at the speakers it must tilt upwards in order to view them on their raised platforms, and when panning between speakers, tilts back down to show the faces of the onlookers nodding in agreement. This view of each speaker from below results in the viewer, to some extent, feeling a sense of authority emanating from the individual speakers (Izod 1987: 57). This use of camera movement also allows the heads of onlookers listening intently to be included in...