The month of February is known for events like Valentine’s Day and President’s Day, but it’s also known for Black History Month, a month-long event where tribute is given to the African Americans of history who fought and struggled to make a difference. In honor of such an event, I can think of no better time to look at the recent release of “MLK/FBI,” a documentary that tells the story of how the Federal Bureau of Investigation tried to ruin famous civil rights leader, Martin Luther King Jr.
Thanks to recent declassified documents from the National Archives, the documentary explores the events of 1955 and 1968, a time of espionage and propaganda, where communism was the greatest evil since the Nazi’s and the FBI were the only heroes that could save us. You were either a patriot or a commie. So, when allegations that certain allies of Martin Luther King Jr. have an affiliation with the Communist party, the FBI begins to monitor King’s activities. However, as King begins to gain more followers and fame for his civil rights actions, the FBI’s agenda begins to shift—or to be more accurate, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s agenda shifts. Suddenly it becomes less about proving that King is a communist and more about finding evidence to discredit him. The overall film is comprised mostly of stock footage and audio files of Martin Luther King Jr., as well as J. Edgar Hoover and his head of intelligence operations, William C. Sullivan. There are also audio-only interviews added to the film from individual historians, authors, along with Clarence B. Jones, a former lawyer and close friend to King, and even former FBI Director James Comey.
The film was directed by documentary filmmaker Sam Pollard, an Emmy Award Winner and Academy Award Nominee. The man has immense talent in this industry, because his recent film, “MLK/FBI,” is one of the most relevant and inspiring films I’ve seen in a while. It’s both tragic and even anger–inducing at times as the truth unravels the depths the FBI sank in order to try and destroy King. While today the man is heralded by many as a hero and a pure example of non-violent protest, the film is an eye-opening reminder of how different he was viewed in his own time. Not just by the FBI either; the film also shares news footage of interviews with average citizens and their unique views on King. And let me tell you, some of these views range from bigoted to absolutely senseless.
It even delves into the country’s outlook on the FBI, and especially on J. Edgar Hoover. For better or worse, his actions had an enormous impact during the era of the Civil Rights Movement, the Red Scare, and more. While the focus of the documentary is on King, Hoover is another figure the film tries to dissect as it unveils the methods and ideals he used to shape the FBI, and the rest of America, in his vision. Whether you agree or disagree with his vision is a matter of opinion, but I think former FBI Director James Comey said it best in this one quote from the documentary: “This represents the darkest part of the bureau’s history.”
“MLK/FBI” is rated PG due to certain images that might be unsuitable for younger audiences. For anyone who’s fascinated with the history of Martin Luther and the Civil Rights Movement, or want an in-depth look at what was happening behind closed doors with the FBI during the early and late 60s, this a must–see you won’t soon forget. Which is why the final score for “MLK/FBI” is an 8.5 out of 10.