Editor Libya El-Amin Infuses Personal Legacy into Nat Geo's Genius: MLK/X, Unveiling the Complexities of Iconic Figures

Published on in Exclusive Interviews

Libya El-Amin, a seasoned editor renowned for her profound storytelling, embarks on a deeply personal journey with Nat Geo's Genius: MLK/X, delving into the intricate narratives of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. With rising talents Kelvin Harrison Jr. and Aaron Pierre embodying the iconic duo, El-Amin's connection to the material runs deeper than mere professional obligation. As the daughter of two parents deeply rooted in the Nation of Islam, El-Amin brings a uniquely intimate perspective to her editing work on episodes 4.02 and 4.06, handling each scene with profound care and reverence. Stepping into the project with a pre-existing admiration for its subjects, El-Amin emerges from the experience enriched, having discovered new layers of complexity within their captivating relationship. 

PH: Can you walk us through your creative process in bringing the Genius: MLK/X scene to life? What were your main inspirations and goals for this particular scene?

Libya El-Amin: The March on Washington (and Martin Luther King’s speech in particular) is an iconic moment that has been depicted onscreen many times before. The key here was to add something that either hadn’t been done before or that was not very widely known. How many people know that Malcolm X came to the March and listened to MLK speak? This moment solidified the concept that even though both men chose different paths for freedom for Black people, it led them to the same historic place. 

PH: Did you encounter any unexpected challenges during the editing of this scene? How did you adapt and overcome these obstacles?

Libya El-Amin: This scene was unique because I needed to blend archival footage with the footage we shot. Added to this complication was that the shoot went long and the coverage of Malcolm X was shot after the sun went down. I used a viewer watching black and white footage on TV to switch to a black and white aesthetic then slowly added just a touch of color so that the daytime and nighttime footage blended with each other, as well as the archival footage. Hopefully, when you watch the scene you don’t really notice any of this and it just plays as one piece.

PH: Can you discuss any special effects or visual effects used in the scene? How did these elements enhance the storytelling?

Libya El-Amin: This ended up being a heavy VFX scene since it was shot in Atlanta and we had to make it seem like it was taking place in front of the Lincoln Memorial. As I cut the scene I had to be aware of how the compositing was going to work and even do temp versions to allow me to cut it. We filmed with maybe a hundred extras that we needed to stack in a way that made it match the archival footage. When you edit this way it does change your cutting pattern because you have to be aware every time to cut to shots like this, it will be very expensive so keep it to a minimum. It helped to lean heavily on the emotional impact the speech had on individuals and see that reaction on their faces and not as many wide visual effect shots. 

PH: How do you feel this scene contributes to the overall narrative arc of Genius: MLK/X? What emotions or themes were you hoping to evoke in the audience?

Libya El-Amin: This scene is designed to show the impact of King’s speech and how it affected people from all walks of life – from the 100,000 people on the National Mall to the President to the racist senator to Malcolm X. There is a moment where we created the illusion that it was possible that Malcolm and Martin actually locked eyes for a moment. Highly unlikely in that crowd but the feeling it evoked was still powerful. Everyone knows the speech so the song choice was also important since that was what held the montage together. We went through several artists and songs before we landed on “Home” by Rhiannon Giddens.

PH: What advice would you give to aspiring filmmakers or production professionals looking to create impactful and memorable scenes like the one you worked on in Genius: MLK/X?

Libya El-Amin: Even though this scene had a hundred extras and intercut to several locations, the heart of it was the feelings it evoked. Spectacle is fun but easily forgotten. It's the moments that touch emotions in your audience that they will remember.

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