By Amanda Gilmore for Mr. Will Wong
During the ’50s and ’60s, the Black community mobilized to fight racial discrimination across the United States. One of the most influencial voices leading the movement was Martin Luther King, Jr. Today, we celebrate the monumental work and impact King had. However, back then many Americans were critical and conflicted on his work. J. Edgar Hoover, who at the time was the Director of the FBI, viewed King’s involvement as part of a Communist plot. MLK/FBI examines Hoover’s relentless campaign of surveillance and harassment against King, with his end goal being to destroy the Civil Rights Hero.
Inspired by the work of Historian David Garrow, Filmmaker Sam Pollard uses recently declassified files to study the FBI’s motives and methods behind targeting King. Pollard, along with his Screenwriters, focus-in on King between ’55 to ’68. They cover the infamous Bus Boycott, the “I Have A Dream” speech, his stance on the Vietnam War, and his eventual assassination. These pivotal moments in history are displayed through extensive archive footage. This gives an authentic and current feeling to the historical context.
Pollard’s focus isn’t solely on King, but also Hoover and the corrupt practices that took place within government agencies. In doing so, he examines the Sexism and Racism behind King‘s wiretapping. There’s also a good balance of information from multiple voices. Pollard includes a colleague of King‘s, a former FBI agent, and Historians who each have a different opinion on MLK/FBI’s central storyline. This makes for an inspired Documentary that’s a well-rounded examination of both King and Hoover’s FBI.
Pollard doesn’t shy away from unflattering information about King. The FBI wiretaps allegedly proved that King had multiple affairs. These tapes are said to be released to the public in 2027. This Film questions how Historians should treat these recordings, and how much of that we can believe considering Hoover’s targetting of King. It’s through examining his affairs that the Film shines a light no matter how celebrated a public persona might be, there can be a complex gray area about them as well. This however, never overshadows King‘s accomplishments in the Film.
This powerful Documentary has arrived at a pivotal time. The parallels between the work King did in the ’50s and ’60s and the Black Lives Matter movement today are striking. Sadly, so is the reality of government institutions unjustly targeting the Black community. Not enough has changed.
MLK/FBI screens at TIFF ’20:
Tue, Sep 15 5:00pm & 5:15pm
TIFF Bell Lightbox
Tue, Sep 15 6:00pm
Online at Bell Digital Cinema
Fri, Sep 18 4:30pm
TIFF Bell Lightbox