Anne Thompson
December 20, 1991 AT 05:00 AM EST

Although Spike Lee’s Malcolm X is still shooting, the film has already made a little history. To create the sequence in which Malcolm (Denzel Washington) fulfills his pilgrimage, or hajj, to Mecca, an all-Muslim unit of the movie’s crew was able to bring cameras into the holy city. ”It’s the first time they allowed a (nondocumentary) film crew to shoot in Mecca,” boasts Lee, who went through Saudi Arabia’s King Fahd to secure the go-ahead. His location footage now includes hundreds of thousands of pilgrims circling El Ka-Aba, the most sacred site in Saudi Arabia. The rest of the hajj scenes will be filmed next month — but in Cairo, with a replica of the holy city and more that 5,000 extras. ”We didn’t want to bring a full crew back to Mecca,” says Lee. ”Since we have some scenes at the Sphinx and pyramids anyway, it made no sense to recreate Mecca in Cairo.”

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