Reel Reviews | MLK/FBI

by Charles Kirkland, Jr.

The strange connection and struggle between J. Edgar Hoover and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr is investigated in the new documentary, MLK/FBI.

It is no secret that the Federal Bureau of Investigation, led by J. Edgar Hoover, spied upon the activities of Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement in the 1960s. In fact, it would be curious if they did not. But based on newly declassified files from the FBI, this film takes a look into the true extent to which the US government used surveillance to attempt to harass King and undermine his every action.

Written by Benjamin Hedin (Two Trains Runnin’) and Laura Tomaselli, Oscar nominee Sam Pollard (4 Little Girls) directs this resonant and impactful film that takes a hard look at not just the actions of the FBI but also those of the greatest civil rights leader this country may have ever known.

MLK/FBI is an unflinching look into the heart of the civil rights leader and those who attempt to subvert his influence in the movement. It is unapologetic in the approach it takes in not only exposing the jealousy that reared its ugly head to the notoriety and acclaim that King received but also to how the actions of King himself contributed to the vicious attacks that were levied against him.

What is most striking about the film is the realization that there is nothing new under the sun. Many of the attacks and aspersions cast upon the civil rights movement bear an unsettling resemblance to the same attacks that are levied against the Black Lives Movement occurring today. Pollard makes subtle but obvious illustrations that bring these similarities to light, making it almost impossible for the viewer to not recognize and reflect upon their impact upon the general public today.

Much like Pollard did in 4 Little Girls and the Sammy Davis Jr film, I’ve Gotta Be Me, the visuals of this documentary are centered upon stock and file footage showing films and documents while the narration comes through the voices of interviews with Andrew Young, James Comey, Clarence Jones, and others. The big difference is that for most of the movie, those being interviewed are not seen. The visuals are locked on the wealth of photos of Hoover, LBJ, King, and the Kennedy brothers. It is an effective technique that keeps the viewers locked into the time and the events of the time rather than giving them the release of retreat to the current time and faces of those recounting their experiences. Once Pollard has finished telling the story, he releases the viewers by allowing them to see the raconteurs as they are currently to address the current issue.

The current issue is the upcoming declassification of all the MLK tapes and surveillance which is scheduled to happen in 2027. Many of the storytellers state that there probably is no good to come from the release of the MLK files which makes one wonder, after this revealing documentary, what stories are left to be told?

MLK/FBI is scheduled for release on January 15, 2021, and has not yet been rated by the Motion Picture Association of America. The information in the movie is informative and confirms many rumors about the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and is developed in a way that makes it accessible to pre-teens.

Grade: B-

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