Malcolm X may have famously been the first non-documentary to shoot in Saudi Arabia’s holy city of Mecca, but it’s taken 30 years for the film to actually screen publicly in the country.
That historic occasion took place on Dec. 3 at the Red Sea International Film Festival in Jeddah, where Spike Lee touched down to introduce his landmark 1992 feature.
Speaking the following day at the festival, the director described shooting the film and the “crazy idea” to take cameras to follow Malcolm’s pilgrimage to Mecca.
“We knew that by hook or by crook we had to shoot Malcolm’s Hajj because this is where he felt he converted to true Islam. But up until that point, a movie camera had never been allowed. And by the grace of God, the grace of Allah, the highest Islamic court gave us permission,” he said. “It wasn’t because of me. It was because of Malcolm X that they made that exception. They recognized who he was.”
Lee explained that, as a non-Muslim, he was not able to actually visit Mecca to shoot himself, but instead hired a Muslim camera crew who were able to film the thousands of worshipers also undertaking their hajj pilgrimage.
“The footage we got during Hajj was just amazing and it really gave the film that epic film that we needed,” he said. “It really added so much spirituality.”
Lee explained that Warner Bros., which was releasing Malcolm X, wanted the film to be two hours long, but that he “needed three hours to tell the whole story of the transformation Malcolm was going through.” So he called up Oliver Stone, then in post-production on JFK, also with Warners., who told him that his film was going to be three hours long. “They didn’t know that me and Oliver Stone were tight!”
Lee also addressed the fact that Denzel Washington was tipped to win an Oscar for Malcolm Xclaiming that “the Academy has a history of overlooking films.”
However, he said that “those performances still live on… No one is watching Driving Miss Daisy today. No one is watching Green Book today.”
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