Nicki Minaj stoked the ire of Malcolm X's family by using an image of Malcolm X wielding a machine gun in artwork for her new single. The saga began earlier this week when the famous picture appeared on her website and Instagram account with Minaj's name and the title of her new song dropped on the image.
Two Change.org petitions and a swirl of outrage later, Minaj sort of apologized on Thursday via Instagram:
What seems to be the issue now? Do you have a problem with me referring to the people Malcolm X was ready to pull his gun out on as Lookin Ass Niggaz? Well, I apologize. That was never the official artwork nor is this an official single. This is a conversation. Not a single. I am in the video shooting at Lookin Ass Niggaz and there happened to be an iconic photo of Malcolm X ready to do the same thing for what he believed in!!!! It is in no way to undermine his efforts and legacy. I apologize to the Malcolm X estate if the meaning of the photo was misconstrued. The word "nigga" causes so much debate in our community while the "nigga" behavior gets praised and worship. Let's not. Apologies again to his family. I have nothing but respect an adoration for u. The photo was removed hours ago. Thank you."
The family of the slain leader did not take kindly to the controversy and spoke out yesterday. Mark Roesler, who runs licensing and merchandise for Malcolm X's estate, called the image "dehumanizing." He added: "This is a family photo that was taken out of context in a totally inaccurate and tasteless way."
This isn't the first time this particular photograph, which ran in Ebony in 1964, has been appropriated for debate-worthy aims. You can find the image on countless posters and t-shirts as well as in parodies. One of the most common adaptations is this one:
About the disconnect:
The photo was originally taken as a warning against those Nation of Islam members who had threatened Malcolm's life. But placed next to the slogan "By Any Means Necessary", it appeared to be a call to arms for the Black population.
Next week is the 49th anniversary of Malcolm X's assassination in Harlem.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.