by James Baldwin, 1972
It wasn’t until I did some research for my podcast episode about The Autobiography of Malcolm X and Spike Lee’s film that I learned that, while several writers attempted to write a script based on the book, Lee ultimately chose Baldwin’s effort on which to base his epic masterpiece. One Day When I Was Lost is the screenplay that was never realized on film. Baldwin chronicled some of the difficulties of writing for Hollywood in The Devil Finds Work, in which he relates that he was encouraged to increase the action sequences and learned that the script would be cut to emphasize entertainment. Baldwin abandoned the project, and his writing was produced only in book form until Lee decided to work from it in the early 90s. As such, the book bears strong resemblances to the resulting film. It doesn’t necessarily feel complete, but it is a clear stepping stone to what I consider to be the best movie I’ve ever seen.
by Malcolm X, as told to Alex Haley, 1965
The great thing about books is that they help us understand not only others, but ourselves and our own place in history a little bit better. Growing up I knew little of Malcolm X. I was raised Catholic, owing to my mother, but my father (the black side of my family) was Methodist and the First Nation of Islam was so far off my radar as to be non-existent. It was something for other black people, the ones who changed their names and insisted they were African, not American. (Conversely, I know now that we were the “smug” and “intention-hungry Negroes” that Malcolm X detested.) I read maybe a few passages from The Autobiography in school, but Malcolm X was never studied in depth and overall I got the sense that, while he contributed to our history as black people, he was not to be admired. I could have gone my whole life thinking that had I not taken it upon myself to learn more.