Icons of leaderships, those who challenged a system to defend the oppressed, are scrutinized, as was the case with the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Director Sam Pollard introduces a documentary that’s excellent in structuring its story. When given the facts surrounding the narrative, nothing new of substance or information is presented to the audience. But the importance of Dr. King’s message resonates beyond what I may argue to be more of the same. How quickly we lose a grip on what’s morally right or wrong rears its ugly head quicker than we can remember. Before we know it, the signs of history’s relevance serve as a stepping stone as we approach a world that’s been halted from progress.
Dr. King’s actions of love over hatred, equality over division, made the FBI, particularly J. Edgar Hoover, susceptible to frustration. Mr. Hoover, a well-known racist and closeted crossdresser rendering his stern approach to the law hypocritical in many ways, wanted nothing more than to burn Dr. King’s world down. Piggybacking off of Joseph McCarthy’s police van of communist allegations, attempting to tie one to the communist party was Mr. Hoover’s golden ticket when investigating someone he didn’t like.
The filmmakers of “MLK/FBI” aren’t afraid to tell us what they think of J. Edgar Hoover. A man who started small made the FBI the largest criminal surveillance organization globally. Such power corrupts a man who’s already not afraid to be corruptable. When communism didn’t work, MLK’s sex life was used as the next weapon, turning black sexuality into the anti-black propagandist machine it has been since Jim Crowe cartoons to D.W. Griffith films. Finally, the FBI had something to make the pastor look less than holy.
Taking this all in as a man fascinated with the era’s history, I was intrigued but not blown away by this film. The non-violent means of civil liberty contrasted to other leaders who called for physical action has been explored before. A film similar (perhaps an influence on this picture) “I Am Not Your Negro” examines almost everything touched upon in “MLK/FBI” through the sensational words of James Baldwin. Many of the aesthetics are seen here as with “AMNYN.” The subjects who are interviewed aren’t shown on camera. Instead, we can only hear them over the archival footage, so the audience is not to be taken away from the subject matter at hand, further engrossing them in the years of Civil Rights. A majority of the picture is told through interviews with Martin Luther King, providing us his voice to drive what he thinks above anyone else, creating a deceased protagonist whose more lively than ever. Even if used more successfully before, this style works as a beautiful companion piece to “I Am Not Your Negro” further personifying a history with the 21st century’s majestic editing tools.
By creating an exemplified MLK portrait, I’m amazed by how controlled he was. When faced with nothing but hate, Dr. King only responded calmly with deep sincerity in his voice to fan the flames of anger. Men of his caliber have only come around once in history. How he didn’t snap with the FBI’s continued efforts in dismantling his legacy is astonishing. I found myself more fascinated by Dr. King himself than the movie’s construction. Maybe it’s because I’m already aware of Martin Luther King’s extramarital affairs, did I find nothing to falter my opinion on the man, much like how none of it impacted anyone’s opinion at that time either. To distinguish “MLK/FBI” from any other documentary revolving around the subject matter would be a complicated matter to pick apart, which it is. The message is clear, though. Revolutionaries, whether peaceful or violent, have always been targets. To this day, the men who dismantle our government get to walk home free, while some who take every measure possible to help others are punished for being decent people. I’m saddened to know in many ways, we still have not come far from 1968, yet if we’re not reminded of men like Dr. King, we’re bound to continue heading down the path we have been within the last few years.