One of the year’s very best documentaries, MLK/FBI is a spellbinding inside look at a systemic problem that remains in our government agencies today.
Famed documentary filmmaker Sam Pollard’s MLK/FBI is a fascinating insight into a systemic problem that remains in our government agencies today. It is a truly engrossing feature that gives fair and equal treatment to its subjects. It’s one of the very best documentary films released this year, which means it will most likely be ignored by the branch that votes on the documentary category for this year’s Academy Awards (snark intended).
MLK/FBI shows plenty of rare footage and provides access to newly-released documents that everyone would have access to if they knew where to look. It still resonates with us, as Mr. Pollard made a moving picture from facts, not conjectures, after consulting top historians in their field such as Beverly Gage. Heck, you even get some insight into the FBI’s thought process from former director James Comey. They all have come together and reached the same conclusion: the agency needed a villain when it came to the civil rights movement (sound familiar?).
Hoover needed a lawbreaker, an outlaw, a wrongdoer, a real scoundrel, or a black hat if you will. They needed to get to him in ways that would embarrass Mr. King, that would hurt his family by undermining his reputation. They taped him and went as far as having informants within his inner circle share things that made even my jaw drop. This proves Hoover may have been the greatest example of what happens when no ego mediates for peace between the id and the super-ego, but that doesn’t mean he was an idiot either.
When you flip that coin, we can’t see all of Mr. King’s warts because the infamous director’s surveillance wiretaps are under lock and key at the National Archives until 2027 (my guess is that an extension will be granted one early Saturday morning when the newspaper is used to take out the trash). However, Mr. Pollard isn’t shy about showing what was found or some of the relevant rumors that have legs. It’s a remarkably fair and equal treatment of its subjects. One, a great man with flaws, and the other with was such egregious use of power and a lack of a moral compass as the head of one of the world’s most powerful intelligence agencies.
MLK/FBI is a spellbinding work that resonates with us all. Mr. Pollard proved publisher George Santayana wrong, in a way. It’s not true that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it, but the citizens who forget the past are condemned to let their leaders repeat atrocities that we cannot let happen again.