Thursday, January 14, 2021

'MLK/FBI,' a powerful documentary


During the 1960s, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover spied on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Hoover's aim: to undermine King as a moral leader by proving that he had had extra-marital affairs. None of the FBI's tapes of King's dalliances (the proof) can be found in director Sam Pollard's documentary, MLK/FBI. The tapes will not be made public until 2027. Instead, Pollard's documentary paints a clear and alarming portrait of Hoover's attempts to taint King with salacious disclosures and with allegations that he associated with Communists. Pollard elicits testimony from a wide range of observers: from King associates Andrew Young and Clarence Jones, as well as from historian Beverly Gage. Unlike Hoover, the movie isn't interested in whether King's Marital infidelities should have played a role in qualifying him a a leader of conscience and commitment. Pollard prefers to expose the intricacies of surveillance, pushing deep into details about the FBI's maneuvering while also charting the arc of the Civil Rights movement as seen through King's career. The film serves as an exhaustively researched reminder that the FBI's job isn't supposed to involve attempts to destroy those with whom its director happens to disagree. It has no business peddling destructive gossip to undermine those who righteously seek social change, a particular insult to King who remained an eloquent advocate for non-violent protest throughout his life. MLK/FBI stands as a movie that inspires us with King's commitment while appalling us with the lengths to which an American institution went not only to destroy him but to upend an entire movement.

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