An indisputable powerful documentary, “MLK/FBI” concerns the endless public feud between former Director of the FBI J. Edgar Hoover and civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.–who was murdered in cold blood by a lone gunman in his hotel room in 1968. By blending archival photos, newsreel footage and home movies with voice-over interviews over the footage, director Sam Pollard along with producer and co-writer Benjamin Hedin allows the compelling material to tell the story, while doing a deep dive into both MLK and Hoover’s past in what led to MLK’s passion and activism, along with the unconstitutional abuse of power by Hoover.
Pollard’s documentary expertly examines the greatest tragedy is how resented and polarized MLK was by mainstream white America during the 50s and 60s who viewed him as a divider and a menace as J. Edgar Hoover was viewed as an American patriot. This goes to show how the constant fight and struggle for social justice has oddly been a controversial one and unpopular one. Even in the year of 2021 people who advocate for fairness and equality are instantly dismissed as “social justice warriors,” “snowflakes,” “woke,” and other ad hominem attacks. Pollard balances the interviewers off-screen commentary with personal and vivid details of King’s activism with a very poignant and empowering factual political fervor.
“MLK/FBI ” demonstrates how Hoover’s unethical and racially-driven abuse of power was at its height during King’s most defining speeches, protests, and legislation which led to Dr. King’s endless activism that led to a collective awareness for the country. The film examines the fiery, unethical investigations led by Hoover into Dr. King’s scrutiny which revealed his affairs and his infidelity, the documentary provides an insightful, endlessly fascinating account that’s going to allow many viewers’ make the connections between the past and present, noting how humanity has progressed about civil rights, yet will be disheartened how those past tensions are still relevant in today’s modern discourse.
The film leads to the compelling as to why the FBI would use illegal wiretapping and bug Dr. King. Hoover saw him as the most dangerous Black man in America, but the true point to the investigations was to find any and every little flaw on Dr. King so they can discredit and undermine the credibility of Dr. King and the civil rights movement. The wiretapped tapes are sealed in the National Archive until 2027, and only some penned in notes from FBI field agents have been released so far. What will be on the tapes may include Dr. King’s private life and other things that hold no relevance in Dr. King’s revered message on equality and justice. I can even anticipate this leading to a debate later on where the right-wing will try to discredit King’s legacy more as the thought of human progress a threat to their power and other forms of white grievances.
Pollard explores how the tapes and investigation violated due process as history has shown that Dr. King posed no threat to national security. However, these recordings are now part of the history books, and it’s tragic to learn how Hoover was championed and revered during his lifetime to discredit a now revered Black hero. Pollard does an exceptional job showing how Hoover’s resources and abuse of power put into Dr. King was nothing more than a witch hunt. These investigations did nothing with ill-obtained information but to discredit Dr. King, but at the time each year Dr. King received greater mainstream support. Today in 2021, we have a national holiday honoring MLK while history hasn’t been too kind to Hoover. However, the greatest warning of the film is how the fringe element that still exists today in modern politics will use these seal archives as political ammo in the near future to once again try to discredit Dr. King, which was Hoover’s intention all along.
Despite these dynamics, “MLK/FBI” is a deeply compelling look into this chapter of history that examines racial politics that reminds us how this ugly side of politics appears to be immortal. It’s liberating seeing the archival footage of MLK delivering towering speeches to large crowds in the nation’s capital. Dr. King was a leader of great passion and urgency, and the documentary should be viewed in high school civics classes. Sadly, racism continues to persist within the fabric