Category: media

Madonna Meets The Press, 1985 – Ph. Brad Elterman

“When I am dead–I say it that way because from the things I know, I do not expect to live long enough to read this book in its finished form–I want you to just watch and see if I’m not right in what I say: that the white man, in his press, is going to identify me with “hate”. He will make use of me dead, as he has made use of me alive, as a convenient symbol, of “hatred”–and that will help him escape facing the truth that all I have been doing is holding up a mirror to reflect, to show, the history of unspeakable crimes that his race has committed against my race.” 

― Malcolm X, The Autobiography of Malcolm X

Malcolm X as Visual Strategist

For more positive reporting, Malcolm X could depend only on the Nation of Islam’s weekly newspaper, Muhammad Speaks, and, to a lesser extent, the Negro press. The mainstream news media, stoked by his fierce, sometimes inflammatory rhetoric and its own anxieties around race, afforded little more than negative and sensationalistic coverage, much like the Life article featured in Flora’s photograph. If conventional news outlets typically portrayed the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as the “angel of light,” as the sociologist Algernon Austin wrote, Malcolm had become their villainous “angel of darkness.”

While Malcolm viewed the “white press” as more or less a lost cause — its coverage remained largely negative until the day he died — he nevertheless engaged it and, at times, outsmarted it. The public’s trust of and faith in visual media, and its dominant role in shaping public opinion, made it a powerful outlet for reaching his target audience: African-Americans disillusioned with the mainstream civil rights movement.

Many blacks at the time rejected the Nation of Islam’s religious orientation, fundamentalism, political extremism and cultural insularity. But many were also skeptical of the mainstream movement; a 1963 poll by Newsweek reported that more than a third of African-Americans were “resigned to the possibility that they may have to fight their way to freedom.” It was the purpose of Malcolm’s media campaign to motivate these people. And it was the photograph that served as one of his most effective motivators.

A keen steward of the Nation of Islam’s visual representation, Malcolm X often carried a camera, his way of “collecting evidence,” as Gordon Parks once observed. He relied on photographs to provide the visual proof of Black Muslim productivity and equanimity that sensationalistic headlines and verbal reporting often negated. When photojournalists visited the community, he tried to steer them toward the kinds of affirmative images — shots of contented family life, children at play and school, and thriving businesses and institutions — that might subtly ameliorate the negative texts that he knew would inevitably accompany them.

(via The New York Times)