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The latest film from noted documentary filmmaker Sam Pollard, MLK/FBI presents a clear lens on examining J. Edgar Hoover’s relentless campaign of surveillance and harassment against Martin Luther King, Jr. Today, when MLK is celebrated as a civil rights hero, across both political aisles, it is jarring to confront the hate and "fake news" campaign mounted by federal agents who painted him as an enemy of the state.
The film uses recently declassified files to study the FBI’s motives and methods. In the '50s and ’60s, when Black people started to mobilize and protest against Jim Crow and racial discrimination, Hoover, the notorious head of the FBI, saw this movement as a communist plot, much like how today's Black Lives Matter movement is painted as a Marxist group. Rather than support equality, the FBI sought to undermine King through wiretapping and blackmail, in what former FBI director James Comey calls “the darkest part of the bureau’s history.”
Filmmaker Pollard applies his mastery of archival footage to draw upon a broad spectrum of eclectic sources, from newsreels to Hollywood secret-agent movies, to present a pop culture milieu of white picket fences of the '50s to the heights of the civil rights movement in the ‘60s. He overlays contemporary audio interviews from multiple perspectives, including King’s colleagues Andrew Young and Clarence B. Jones.
Pollard also does not censor the revealing evidence of King that are only whispered about as to not tarnish his legacy as a moral hero — including the FBI wiretaps alleging King’s philandering with over 40 women, which the FBI threatened to us on King as blackmail. The film grapples with how historians should treat such nefarious recordings.
"Early morning, April 4, shots ring out in the Memphis sky," as King's life was cut short at the age of 39. Hoover’s FBI reign, on the other hand, lasted 48 years. Today, we see their legacies continue in a new wave of protests and pushback as a BIPOC cultural reckoning is happening in streets across the globe. MLK/FBI is a crucial way to connect the past to the present.
Synopsis written by: Anderson Le