Date of this Version
Communication Studies 59:4 (October–December 2008), pp. 355–370.
Spike Lee’s film Malcolm X (1992) presented Malcolm X’s life story using the narrative framework of the American Dream myth central to liberal ideology. Working from Gramsci’s notion of common sense in the process of hegemony, I explain how Lee appealed to this mythic structure underlying American popular culture to give a platform to Malcolm X’s controversial ideas. By adopting a common sense narrative to tell Malcolm X’s life story, this movie functioned as a form of cinematic jujitsu that invited critical consciousness about the contradictions between liberal ideology and the life experiences of racially excluded groups. Other formal devices in Lee’s film incorporated Malcolm X’s rhetoric within the common sense of mainstream politics and connected Malcolm X to more contemporary racial struggles. This analysis suggests that common sense framings of controversial figures may provide a limited space to challenge institutionalized forms of racism within popular culture.