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Martin Luther King Jr.

by Laura deBuys

Monday, January 18, 2021, is Martin Luther King Jr. Day – the only national holiday that is designated as a day of service. Many of us will be busy volunteering on projects that strengthen our communities, but if you have time at home and want to learn more about the legacy of Dr. King, the following films are available online and well worth a first (or second or third) watch:

MLK/FBI   

The latest film chronicling the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. is MLK/FBI, Sam Pollard’s documentary about J. Edgar Hoover’s widespread surveillance of Dr. King from 1963 to April 4, 1968. Based on The FBI and Martin Luther King: From ‘Solo’ to Memphis by David J. Garrow, MLK/FBI includes real-life footage, scenes from movies that served as law enforcement propaganda, and selections from yet-to-be-released FBI documents. Says New York Times critic A.O Scott, “The result is at once suspenseful, visually engrossing and intellectually bracing. It also raises urgent, sometimes uncomfortable questions about power, privacy, and the ethical challenges of examining the past.” (1970, Rated NR, 185 Minutes)

King: A Filmed Record… Montgomery to Memphis  

Using original newsreel and other primary material, this documentary covers the period from the Montgomery bus boycott of 1955 and 1956 through Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in 1968. The original newsreel segments are framed by narrators Harry Belafonte, Ruby Dee, Ben Gazzara, Charlton Heston, James Earl Jones, Burt Lancaster, Paul Newman, Anthony Quinn, Clarence Williams III, and Joanne Woodward. The movie is directed by Sidney Lumet (the only documentary he directed) and Joseph L. Mankiewicz. (1970, Rated NR, 185 Minutes)

I Am MLK JR 

This film explores moments of personal challenge through intimate, first-hand insights on Dr. King.  Filmed in historic churches where Dr. King preached, and heightened by the music that buoyed the Civil Rights Movement, I Am MLK JR. features a powerful cast of activists, writers, and celebrities. Each interview provides a unique perspective on Dr. King and his legacy. (2018, Rated NR, 95 Minutes)

King – Man of Peace in a Time of War 

In addition to rare, archival footage, this tribute to Dr. King features exclusive interviews with such notables as the Rev. Jesse Jackson (who marched alongside Dr. King); retired general and former Secretary of State, Colin Powell (who reflects on how far the Civil Rights Movement has come); and legendary journalist Howard K. Smith (who introduced Dr. King to Richard Nixon). It includes Congressman Charles Rangel, Quincy Jones, Hugh Hefner, and Laurence Fishburne, plus controversial commentary from Malcolm X. Most remarkable is the ultra-rare appearance of Dr. King himself on a 1967 Mike Douglas Show speaking eloquently about Civil Rights, especially the issue of Black participation in the Vietnam War. It is a revelation to see Dr. King in this intimate setting, even as he is peppered with pointed questions from host Douglas and fellow guest, singer Tony Martin. (2007, Rated NR, 60 Minutes)

In Remembrance of Martin 

Personal comments from family, friends, and advisors fill this PBS documentary honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Coretta Scott King joins the Reverend Ralph Abernathy, Julian Bond, Jimmy Carter, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, Senator Edward Kennedy, John Lewis, Bishop Desmond Tutu, and Andrew Young, in recalling Dr. King’s career and tracing his leadership in the Civil Rights Movement. Portions of his “I Have a Dream” speech are also included. (1986, Rated NR, 57 Minutes)

King in the Wilderness  

King in the Wilderness is an HBO documentary focusing on the final 18 months of Dr. King’s life leading up to his assassination on April 4, 1968. With some never-before-seen footage of interviews with some of those closest to him, it is interspersed with historical archives from a period of his life when, in addition to upsetting both President Lyndon Johnson, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, and numerous opposition groups, and despite his own self-doubts, he refused to back away from the Civil Rights challenges of his times. King in the Wilderness won an Emmy for Outstanding Historical Documentary. (2018, Rated NR, 111 Minutes)

Selma

Selma chronicles Dr. King’s campaign to secure equal voting rights via an epic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in 1965. Directed by Ava Duvernay, the film stars actors David Oyelowo as King, Tom Wilkinson as President Lyndon B. Johnson, Tim Roth as George Wallace, Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King, and Common as James Bevel. Selma was an Academy Award nominee for Best Motion Picture of the Year. In total, the film received 89 nominations and won 60 awards. (2014, Rated PG-13, 128 Minutes)