Twenty-five years ago, Malcolm X, starring Denzel Washington as the incendiary human rights activist, would never have been made without the backing of a few prominent figures. On Saturday, marking the film’s anniversary, director Spike Lee thanked those individuals, including Bill Cosby, Prince, and Oprah Winfrey.
In recent months, Cosby has been embroiled in various legal battles amid multiple allegations of sexual assault, but years earlier he helped Lee achieve his vision for Malcolm X.
“BIG BLACK LOVE To Magic And Michael Jordan,” Lee wrote on Instagram. “These People (Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Prince, Janet Jackson, Oprah Winfrey, Tracey Chapman, Peggy Cooper-Cafritz And Bill Cosby) Who Helped Me Finish The Financing Of The Under Budgeted MALCOLM X. I’ll Never Forget This. Peace And Love, Spike Lee.”
Lee admittedly “talked a lot of trash” to get the directing gig on Malcolm X. He proclaimed, “Only a black can do this film,” before director Norman Jewison departed the project. Lee was able to get a budget of $28 million from Warner Bros., but the filmmaker said “it had to be on the scale of Lawrence of Arabia, The Bridge on the River Kwai.”
The Completion Bond Company, which had assumed financial control, reportedly told Lee the film couldn’t be longer than 2 hours and 15 minutes, according to The New York Times. The budget had ballooned to about $33 million, but the studio didn’t want to give him anymore money.
Lee then publicly announced names like Cosby, Wingry, and Chapman had contributed an undisclosed amount of funds towards finishing the project.
“This is not a loan,” Lee said during a press conference in 1992. “They are not investing in the film. These are black folks with some money who came to the rescue of the movie. As a result, this film will be my version. Not the bond company’s version, not Warner Brothers’. I will do the film the way it ought to be, and it will be over three hours.”
Malcolm X grossed $48.2 million and earned two Oscar nominations, including best actor for Washington’s performance.
Lee posted stills from the film to Instagram to mark the anniversary and sported a bomber jacket emblazoned with Malcolm X’s face.
With his Netflix series She’s Gotta Have It ready to premiere on Nov. 23, Lee is now working with Get Out director Jordan Peele on Black Klansman, about the true-to-life black detective who successfully infiltrated the KKK. Lee will helm the film with Peele producing.