MLK/FBI Parent Guide
Documentaries tend to plod along but this one keeps new and interesting material zipping along at a rapid pace.
Parent Movie Review
Through the mid-1950’s to late 60’s, the man most intimately associated with the struggle for civil rights was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a pastor from Atlanta with a dream of a better future. However, this message of peaceful protest, goodwill, and optimism is not well received by the powers that be, most notably J. Edgar Hoover’s Federal Bureau of Investigation, which labels Dr. King a dangerous radical and attempts to destroy his movement at all costs. With important insight, both from scholars, first-hand witnesses, and friends of Dr. King, this documentary attempts to clarify the attempts of the FBI to discredit and destroy one of the most influential men in America.
It should not, perhaps, come as a shock that the FBI made such a determined attempt to undermined Dr. King. King’s gospel of racial harmony, an end to poverty, and religious freedom was broadly appealing to a wide swath of African-Americans, a group for which the almost entirely white and conservative Bureau had a deep-seated distrust and hatred. But don’t take my word for it. MLK/FBI is perfectly prepared to lay out the facts of the matter with extensive primary source research and intelligent interviews with experts.
As with most documentaries, this is suitable for a broad audience. There is no profanity, no graphic descriptions of sexual activity, no drinking, and only a little bit of background smoking – but good luck finding news footage from the 60s that doesn’t have someone lighting up. There are some disturbing images of violence taken from archival footage, including protestors being beaten or bloodied and images of children suffering the effects of napalm burns. It’s not pretty but it is historically important and immediately relevant to Dr. King’s story.
Documentaries have a tendency to be a little slow but not this one. While it doesn’t zip along so quickly that you’ll miss anything,this doc keeps new and interesting information coming at a fairly rapid pace. It also does something unusual, not showing any of the experts on the screen until the end of the film. Every frame before then is archival footage, either from contemporaneous films or news footage. If you’re one of those people who relies on interesting visuals to process information, this is a good choice. It’s an even better choice if you care about seeing how America got to be where it is – and where it could go from here.Directed by Sam Pollard. Starring James Comey, Beverly Gage, and Martin Luther King. Running time: 104 minutes. Theatrical release January 15, 2021. Updated October 2, 2021
Watch the trailer for MLK/FBI
Rating & Content Info
Why is MLK/FBI rated Not Rated? MLK/FBI is rated Not Rated by the MPAA
Violence: News footage is shown depicting violence against protestors by police, bombings in Vietnam, and injured children as a result of those bombings. Dr. King’s body is seen in his casket at the funeral.
Sexual Content: There are non-graphic references to and discussions of adultery and sex. There is brief mention of rape. A woman is briefly seen breastfeeding an infant.
Alcohol / Drug Use: Some adults are seen smoking.
Page last updated October 2, 2021
MLK/FBI Parents' Guide
Towards the end of the documentary, the filmmakers focus on Dr. King’s concern that police were overstepping their bounds and beginning to crack down on legitimate protests, not just along racial boundaries. How has that concern been borne out since? How do recent events such as Black Lives Matter protests or the storming of the Capitol in 2021 resonate with the themes of this documentary?
MLK/FBI is very concerned with how the eventual release of the FBI tapes will effect public perceptions of Dr. King’s legacy. What impact do you think the tapes will have? What do you think the government’s response will be? Do you think these tapes will cause more damage to Dr. King or the FBI?
Why was J. Edgar Hoover so obsessed with Dr. King? How did he violate FBI policy to pursue that obsession? What else did Director Hoover do in his tenure which was either suspicious or illegal? How was that justified at the time? Who was responsible for oversight of his actions, and why wasn’t he stopped?
Loved this movie? Try these books…
Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story by Dr. King himself is his account of the bus boycott which helped gain so much attention to the cause of civil rights. Jimmie Lee & James: Two Lives, Two Deaths, and the Movement that Changed America is the untold, true story behind the historic 1965 voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery. John Lewis has authored two graphic novels: the first, a trilogy titled March, which is his perspective on his involvement in the Civil Rights Movement and how it shaped his life. A sequel, Run, focuses on Lewis’ life following the passage of the Civil Rights Act. Lewis has also written a book, Across That Bridge: A Vision for Change and the Future of America, which offers his perspective on modern political and personal problems. Voices of Freedom, by Henry Hampton, tells the story of the Civil Rights Movement through interviews with participants. In A More Beautiful and Terrible History: The Uses and Misuses of Civil Rights History, Jeanne Theoharis challenges current interpretations of history and calls for a broader understanding of the nation-wide struggle of African Americans to obtain equal rights.
A more modern approach is Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, a story of the dangers of being a black man in America, told in epistolary style from Coates to his young son.
Related home video titles:
An obvious choice is Selma, which depicts the historic march from Selma to Montgomery. John Lewis: Good Trouble tells the story of the late congressman and former Civil Rights leader. Mississippi Burning tells the partially fictionalized story of the investigation into the murder of three civil rights workers who were brutally killed in Mississippi while trying to register African-American residents to vote. Dr. Martin Luther King was not representative of all black leaders at the time – to see another side of the story, watch Malcolm X, starring Denzel Washington as the titular revolutionary thinker as he struggles to hold people to account for the treatment of black people in his country. All The Way, starring Bryan Cranston as President Lyndon B. Johnston, highlights the contention and difficulty which arose between Dr. King and LBJ’s administration as the Civil Rights Act made its way through Congress. A similar story plays out in LBJ, starring Woody Harrelson.