The truth about Who Killed Malcom X

The assassination of Malcolm X, has long drawn suspicion from numerous quarters, and that suspicion is only heightened by the release of the new six-part documentary series directed by Rachel Dretzin and Phil Bertelsen titled “Who Killed Malcolm X”.

The series follows the investigative work of Abdur-Rahman Muhammad, a Washington city tour guide and historian, who through extensive research of the murder and the subsequent trial has established that two of the men accused of the murder, who spent 20 years in prison, were wrongfully convicted. 

The documentary examines the proportion of culpability of the players in the murder investigation, and what is widely regarded as an ensuing cover up including the Nation Of Islam, the FBI and the New York Police Department.

The evidence provided by Muhammad in the series has encouraged prosecutors to re-examine the case, which could lead to the exoneration of Muhammad D. Aziz (then known as Norman 3X Butler) as well as Khalil Islam, (then known as Thomas 15X Johnson).  Mujahid Abdul Halim (then known as Talmadge Hayer and Thomas Hagan) along with the two men mentioned above, were all convicted of the murder in 1965.

Of the three men convicted at the time, only Hayer admitted his guilt, having been caught with a shell from a gun used in the hit. He also denied the involvement of the two others who were convicted with him and would later sign an affidavit detailing the names of the four conspirators he said walked free. 

The four other men, along with Hayer, were members of the Nation of Islam mosque in Newark, New Jersey at the time of the killing.

This is the focus of Dretzin, Bertelser and Muhammad’s investigation in “Who Killed Malcolm X”. Muhammad’s dogged pursuit for the truth led him to interview several members of the Nation Of Islam Newark mosque, as well as historians like David Garrow and Zak. A Kondo.

The inclusion of authoritative voices provides depth to the drama and the variety of sources in the series provides viewers with a rounded knowledge of the case, and its fallout. 

Muhammad is committed to finding out the truth. His passion for justice is present throughout and this drives the plot forward. 

The directors blend archival footage of Malcolm X’s speeches, past interviews from the 1960’s and present-day sit-downs with the likes of Reverend Al Sharpton, and Senator Cory Booker to detail the significance of the murder in the context of civil rights era killings. 

During the series, Senator Booker, once the mayor of Newark, is seemingly shocked to find out the man who allegedly fired the fatal shot, appeared in a video for his mayoral reelection campaign in 2010.

The work carried out by Malcolm X continues to inspire many people in present day America. At the time of his death the lasting contribution he made to the African American community was unclear. When interviewed following the murder, his wife Betty Shabazz would indicate that it would take time to truly understand the scope of Malcolm’s influence.

She said: “I think that he accomplished more than can be realised at this moment. It seems after a person has died he is reevaluated but I think that the magnitude of his work will be felt around the world.”

It is for this reason that “Who Killed Malcolm X” is a crucially important piece of film-making. If the murder investigation into one of the United States most high profile historical figures was seemingly so badly botched, how are minority communities in America today supposed to trust the justice system that has continuously let them down?

Ruairi Carberry 

Image Credit: Netflix