MLK/FBI is Director Sam Pollard’s detailed account of the rivalry between Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the U.S. Government Federal Bureau of Investigation, shedding light on the dark chapters still being opened over fifty years after his assassination.
At the time of this documentary release, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial sits in the heart of Washington, D.C., a few minutes from FBI Headquarters. This documentary about the 20th century’s most famous influential leader for civil rights is being released amid the Black Lives Matter movement, which, to date, is being considered as the largest social movement in U.S. history.
Given Dr. King’s storied life and an equally storied institution such as the F.B.I., many an approach could be pursued. Pollard sagely captures the profundity of this conflict through archival footage of Dr. King, J. Edgar Hoover, and the people who lived through the Civil Rights contests of the 1950s and 1960s.
Friends of Dr. King, such as Clarence B. Jones give their thoughts alongside government experts, like former FBI Director, James Comey. However, “the floor” of this documentary is given to King, Hoover, President Johnson, and others. As if to allow these men who shaped America through the levers of law and political action to speak for themselves, as themselves.
Today’s current presentation of Dr. King’s legacy is relegated to his immortal “I Have A Dream” speech, which, I must confess, gives me chills every time I hear it. In MLK/FBI, viewers see more both in and of Dr. King. An eloquent orator, a passionate leader, and a man under severe pressure from all sides.
Several scenes reveal Dr. King in unguarded moments of uncertainty and anxiety. In other scenes, he responds to even the harshest criticism with calm grace and unmistakable presence of mind. Viewers may find refreshment in the unadorned portrayals of Dr. King’s humanity, a perspective in open contrast to present-day documentaries, where heroes are edited to elicit a reaction or mime perfection.
Viewers are brought into facts of Dr. King’s harassment, the alleged imperfections of his personal life, and the dispassionate antagonism brought to bear by the American Department of Justice.
History is a story that is still being told.
This film leaves many unspoken questions open to viewer interpretation. There is the question of who Dr. King really was? Questions of how any life – private citizen or public servant – could bear the full weight and surveillance of a government of and for the free? How does a standard bearer of justice, law, and freedom come to view a Nobel laureate for Peace as the country’s most dangerous threat?
As archival footage of continues to emerge, we understand that neither the F.B.I. nor Dr. King could have envisioned today’s 24/7 connected and media-saturated culture. The film leaves it open which records should be honored, corrected, or even, abolished, as evidenced by the invisible body politic of cancel culture.
What Sam Pollard suggests is that our present proclamations – of both word and deed – do not finish after we gone. This sensitivity and insight is among the achievements of this thought-provoking documentary.
MLK/FBI adds poignant understanding to Dr. King as a human being and the powerful force that government can exert on the lives of its citizens. Fitting and relevant, as the impact of their decisions fifty years ago continue to shape a country today.
Director: Sam Pollard
Writers: Benjamin Hedin, Laura Tomaselli
Running time: 1hr 44minutes
Watch the official trailer:
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Photo credit: screenshot from the official video trailer