Michael X: Hustler. Revolutionary. Outlaw.

Words by Karan Teli

When you initially hear about a new documentary airing on Sky TV, billed as the documentary that tells the story of the ‘UK Malcolm X’ – you may have the same reaction I did. The first question I asked myself is how can I have never heard of this person before? It’s impossible to talk about the history of the civil rights and black power movement without mentioning Malcolm X, and with a country and British Empire that time and time again has proven to be racist and discriminatory towards people of colour, how can I never have heard of somebody who could be heralded as UK’s Malcolm X? It didn’t make sense to me. 

I was fortunate enough to speak with the director of Michael X, who was very candid with me about the lack of media that showcases the issues that people of colour have faced in the UK, or when these stories are told, they are wildly inaccurate or outdated. “The scale of the project is what drew me towards it initially. The fact that Michael’s life is just an extraordinary compression of history, almost likened to a tragedy. You then couple that with showing how the British used to react to migrants, the the struggles migrants faced when first receiving Britain. What’s also special about this documentary is that it also shows Michael’s life and the reaction towards him when he left the UK and went back to Trinidad. We don’t often see that side of people’s story”. 

Michael X, (R, foreground) black power advocate in Hyde Park. (Photo by Terence Spencer/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

The story of Michael X is perplexing. The situations and environments Michael was around almost forced his hand into activism and public speaking. It’s never seen as his calling in life or his purpose. When you think of some of the great activists and public speakers who have inspired so many people, you almost can’t picture them doing anything else. But with Michael, he is often portrayed in the documentary as the person who just so happened to be in the right place at the right time, or the person who just so happened to start a conversation with the right person at the right time.

The documentary is billed as the story of the ‘rise and fall’ of the black activist; and nothing could be more true. The documentary unravels Michael’s life, from his association with not only Malcolm X, but other civil rights activists throughout the 1960’s and 70’s, to his own talks and rallies, all the way to his migration back to Trinidad and eventually, his time on Death Row. Featuring hours of archive footage and stories from friends and historians, the documentary puts you into the world of 1960’s and 70’s Britain and Trinidad, while telling the story of a character who can definitely split opinions. Historians were not afraid to call Michael a ‘hustler’ ‘fraud’ or ‘coward’.

Michael X: Hustler, Revolutionary, Outlaw premieres on Sky Documentaries and NOWTV on Saturday 16th October.


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