Behind the scenes with a misdirected FBI targeting MLK.
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” MLK
It’s shocking to hear in the eye-opening documentary MLK/FBI William Sullivan, the FBI’s director of domestic intelligence, encourage Martin Luther King, Jr. to commit suicide. The theme of the doc is that the agency, under J Edgar Hoover’s direction, from 1955 was dedicated to bringing down King and the Civil Rights Movement.
Although the animosity was known even in the 60’s, the doc does a credible job showing this aggressiveness was a part of the mid-century paranoia dominated by the fear of communism and perhaps mirrored it. In this case, the agency, like Joe McCarthy, had little evidence of the subjects’ undemocratic tactics but probably was motivated more by the fear of losing influence to liberal protestors or lonely anarchists.
Mixing archival footage of King parading and snippets from his famous speeches, director Sam Pollard gives a fluid narrative to otherwise discursive material. To his credit, talking heads are at a minimum as he emphasizes the growing concern that King was being targeted to go down.
That plot was notoriously supported by ample evidence of King’s philandering, mainly in hours of tapes with his women, not his wife, from wiretapping to photos. The actual auditory evidence will be released in 2027, and the ballyhoo will probably be disappointing because he did his good while he was doing his bad, and the good he did for civil rights and Black people far outweighs infidelities to his estimable wife and puritanical white folk.
MLK/FBI could have profited from discussion of his influence and flaws and how the latter might have been better served by expert analysis about their importance. That he was an appetitive man, at least in regards to women, was known before this documentary; that he was a powerful player in the freedom of his own people and other repressed minorities, will redound through history.
MLK/FBI will remind you in important evidence that like JFK, MLK was destined to change a nation and lose a young life in return. I never tire of remembering true heroes.
Director: Sam Pollard
Screenplay: Benjamin Hedin, Laura Tomaselli
Cast: James Comey, et al.
Run Time: 1h 44 m
John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at JohnDeSando62@gmail.com