Film Review: MLK/FBI (2020)

By Lexi Meola 

Elm Staff Writer 

The conspiracy theories surrounding the relationship between law enforcement and Civil Rights Movement Leader Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. have been prevalent since his death in 1968. 

As the title suggests, “MLK/FBI” focuses on how much time the Federation Bureau of Investigation spent attempting to prevent King from becoming the threat they thought he was. 

The head of the FBI’s domestic intelligence sent his colleagues an urgent memo about King after his famous “I Have A Dream” speech in 1963. In his memo he wrote, “We must mark him now as the most dangerous Negro in the future of this nation.” 

After the memo was sent, the FBI began its work to discredit King and expose his untrustworthiness to the public eye. 

“I think one of the important things about this film is that it’s an opportunity not just for those of us who know this history, but for those who don’t, to come to grips with the complexity of American history,” director Sam Pollard said to The Atlantic’s Hannah Gorgis. 

The documentary offers a unique perspective into what the FBI’s goals were regarding discrediting King’s character and make him an uncredible source. 

Documentaries like this one helps to educate people about history and fill in gaps that they might not have learned about in school. The Civil Rights Movement has been taught in schools for years; however, the relationship between these activists and the federal government has never gone into this much detail like done in the documentary. 

One of the most questionable and quite frankly disturbing moments of the documentary included how far the FBI was willing to disrepute King. They were actively collecting intel on King’s personal life to try and expose him as a hypocrite who was unworthy of people’s trust. 

“Pollard’s film makes clear that the FBI’s surveillance of King and, by extension, of other Black activists throughout U.S. history- reflects paranoia that’s foundational to American politics and that didn’t end when King died,” The Atlantic reporter Hannah Gorgis said. 

The documentary also discussed how difficult it was for King and other activists to deal with this constant pressure from the FBI. As U.S. citizens, this was proof that the government could not be trusted, and this is a problem that still exist today. 

It was difficult for people to trust the government during this time to do what is best for the country, rather than one group of individuals. This especially was made clear in the film, as it highlighted the long history of government silencing the movement and their leaders alongside their progression towards equality. 

Many people in the review of the film were hoping it would address the conspiracy theory that King was killed by the FBI themselves; however, after watching, it was clear that the director was focused on telling the story that was there rather than the theories that people came up with. 

“I would first say that I try not to see anybody, no matter how special, as iconic. I try to see them as human beings, knowing that they did great things,” Pollard said to Vox reporter Alissa Wilkinson. 

“As a documentary filmmaker, the films I tackle, the subjects I tackle, the folks that I tackle, I’m trying to show them in all of their complexity, as much as I can — knowing full well there may be things that will come down the pike years later that will unearth even more about them. That was the agenda and the goal of doing this film, about King and J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI. To dig into who they were, what they were all about, and understanding that a lot of what we’ve seen…is systemic in terms of the DNA of this country,” he said. 

This documentary allows Americans and those around the world to learn a new side of U.S. history and more specifically another side to the Civil Rights Movement that was not always told.

Featured Photo caption: In this new documentary released in January, director Sam Pollard dives into the progression of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his leadership during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s — and that of the FBI to discredit him from within. Photo Courtesy of Unseen Histories.

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