This documentary does exactly what it says on the tin, telling the tricky and tumultuous story of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s surveillance on Dr Martin Luther King Jr.
From the March on Washington in 1963 to his assassination in 1968, MLK was subject to harassment dressed up as government ordered surveillance, all under the watchful eye of then FBI director, J Edgar Hoover. The FBI recorded hours of surveillance footage, audio and location tracking, following King and his mistresses in an attempt to expose and humiliate the civil rights leader, and weaken his status. Hoover was convinced that Dr King posed a threat to national security.
Archive footage sits centre stage in the film – director Sam Pollard has opted against the artsy, low-lit interviews we’ve become accustomed to, and instead has gone for voiceovers, allowing us to really immerse ourselves in the world of MLK. And what an intense world that was.
It’s is a fascinating look at not only Hoover’s tirade against King, but the internal workings of the US’s home intelligence service. And it brings forth compelling interpretations on why Hoover was so set on bringing MLK down, painting him as a man both indoctrinated by American government and driven by power. And this balance is maintained throughout the film, with Dr King presented as neither a saint nor a sinner, giving viewers plenty of space to make up their own minds on the rights and wrongs of this history.
The Guardian’s Simran Hans gave the film four stars, and praises Pollard’s depiction of MLK as “a complicated and fallible man rather than an untouchable icon.” Owen Gleiberman in Variety agrees that it presents complex ideas on King, and says the film “leaves you wanting more,” but “won’t leave you feeling at all resolved about these issues.” In The New York Times, A O Scott calls the documentary “fascinating,” praising it for being “fair to all parties without being neutral or timid,” saying that “In that regard, it’s an exemplary historical documentary.”
First shown January 2021. You can watch the trailer by pressing play on the show image, or by clicking here.