January 12th, 2021
STARRING: MARTIN LUTHER KING, JAMES COMEY, BEVERLY GAGE
DIRECTED BY: SAM POLLARD
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 3 STARS (Out of 4)
It’s not a question of whether the FBI mistreated Martin Luther King Jr., only a matter of how much did they mistreat him? That question is answered in Sam Pollard’s documentary MLK/FBI and done so with an in-depth comb, with a complete dissection of the subject, leaving little doubt about how the government agency should be judged. The civil rights leader was not a saint, but nobody could cast a stone or judge the man, especially because he was surrounded by a government with enough sins to fill Satan’s library. In MLK/FBI I would describe it as an informative documentary and incredibly detailed. You get it all. A look at unsealed files, footage from past meetings involving King and President Lyndon Johnson, interviews with FBI agents and intelligence operatives, and cold hard facts. For some, MLK/FBI will be more information they already knew, some may not care to learn the details of the relationship between these two sides, and others will leave shocked at one of the United States Government’s efforts to disparage someone fighting for the rights of others. MLK/FBI peels back the curtain about the U.S. government pressing all their weight on the great civil rights leader.
When it comes to documentary filmmaking, there’s a standard style, and a dual focus for the director. The line between journalism and entertainment is thin, but MLK/FBI is undoubtedly educational. Think Ken Burns or Alex Gibney, only with much less talking head interviews. What director Sam Pollard does is let the audio do the work, with recordings of King being interviewed, answers from past FBI director James Comey, and past speeches from other civil rights leaders. Each person brings something different to the story, a new perspective on the agency’s history, republican and democrat sides, and how the FBI became J. Edgar Hoover’s personal tool of revenge.
There is also a highly detailed look at the operations of the FBI and detailing their ability to bug various homes or hotel rooms of King. It nearly became a twisted game of chess, with Hoover enjoying the amount of information he could hold over someone’s head. Pollard does not sugar coat the details either, how the FBI was viewed as a gold standard of Law Enforcement, how King was ashamed of any times he cheated on his wife, but also how the amount of pressure constantly placed on him was never an easy weight to carry.
The arrival of MLK/FBI could not be at a more important moment in time either, specifically because of what MLK was fighting for. The information in this documentary highlights the harassment, the push back that Black American’s experienced in the 1960’s, and sadly, they still experience it today. The suppression of Black American’s voting continues to be a battle in every state and when political power can be taken away from republicans they will do anything to keep it. Martin Luther King knew that was the FBI’s goal and his voice scared them. He spoke up for all American’s to be given the right to vote and that did not sit well with Hoover. MLK/FBI sheds a bright light on that mistreatment and makes the argument that Martin Luther King could not withstand the harassment, with his life taken way too soon. It’s safe to say that if King were still alive today you would be sure to have those in America still viewing him as the enemy.
If anything, MLK/FBI should be preferred viewing for high school students. It may not be the most “entertaining” documentaries of 2020, but it certainly does what a great journalist intends to do. Sam Pollard is that person. His work here is well informed, covering all areas of the subject matter, and continuing to be someone that highlights matters of Black American history. MLK/FBI opens a new file on the things our American government could do to a person fighting for civil rights. MLK didn’t deserve being a target of the FBI. The bureau made him the villain, history will forever know that MLK was the hero.
MLK/FBI IS PLAYING IN SELECT THEATERS AND AVAILABLE ON DEMAND FROM IFC FILMS JANUARY 15TH
Written by: Leo Brady