Movie Review: ‘X/onerated’ strikes with courage and authenticity

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“X/onerated” retraces the story of recently exonerated Muhammad Abdul Aziz and the impact his conviction had on his life and family. (Photo courtesy of ABC News)

Myles Wolf, Movie Columnist

When the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s comes up in public discourse, people frequently address racial injustice in a way that overlooks the tragic consequences of long-term suffering, personal hardship and generational trauma. The short documentary “X/onerated” addresses this issue head-on by chronicling the story of Muhammad Abdul Aziz, who was exonerated last November after spending 55 years behind bars for the assassination of civil rights leader Malcolm X.

The documentary features the first interview with Muhammad Abdul Aziz since his release, as well as in-depth interviews with his wife Paula McLellan, son Craig Butler and daughter Edris B. Green. Each details their experiences over several decades of hardship.

Segments with Malcolm X’s daughter Ilyasah Shabazz, Aziz’s attorneys, the two sons of the other exonerated man Khalil Islam and a number of civil rights scholars add credibility to this story and highlight a clear consensus about Aziz’s innocence decades before his exoneration.

Smart stylistic and post-production choices also enhance the comprehensive details in this story. This film is meticulously well edited and produced. The documentary uses stock footage, newspaper articles and media coverage from the 1960s and 1970s to reinforce the reality of the events it tells.

The interviews also include clear and insightful questions. I was remarkably stricken by the courage and authenticity of the participants of this project, who were all committed to telling their stories on a deeply personal level.

In stark contrast, I hope viewers do not overlook the film’s details about the FBI’s careless investigative practices. For one, the FBI allowed a dance to take place in the Audubon Ballroom hours after Malcolm X’s assassination in the same room. Additionally, strong evidence suggests that FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover intentionally hid evidence from the New York Police Department, one of many questionable choices that raise suspicion around the FBI’s involvement in the murder and the conviction of Aziz and Islam without proper evidence.

What stuck with me the most, however, is the way “X/onerated” showcases the durability and strength of Aziz and his family. I dare not say too much, but the film’s ending has a remarkable quote about reputation and name that brought me to tears.

Due in part to its accessibility through the Disney+ subscription and its short length, I feel that everyone needs to see this film. We cannot highlight the importance of the civil rights movement of 1950s and 1960s enough in this contemporary moment where, once again, social justice and racial liberty have become among the most important issues of our time.