IN UK cinemas on January 15, MLK/FBI depicts the explosive expose of the FBI’s covert surveillance and persecution of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
If Dr King was going to succeed it was going to upend what J. Edgar Hoover’s notion of democracy in America was
A film by Academy award nominee Sam Pollard, the director uses newly discovered and declassified files, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and unsealed by the National Archives, to illustrate the depth and breath of the FBI’s targeted and sustained harassment of Dr King at the behest of their director J. Edgar Hoover.
Talking to The Voice Newspaper, Pollard explained: “The film basically looks at Dr Martin Luther King who, in 1963, gave probably one of the greatest speeches ever and out of that speech J. Edgar Hoover, basically through the voice of one of his lieutenants William Sullivan said, “This is one of the most dangerous black men that has ever come on the face of the earth.
“And his job from that point on was to surveil Dr King, wiretap and monitor Dr King’s whereabouts and what he as doing for the next five years because he felt that he needed to destroy Dr King’s reputation.
“Because if Dr King was going to succeed it was going to upend what J. Edgar Hoover’s notion of democracy in America was.”
He added: “So the film tells the parallel story of Dr King’s civil rights movement from the Montgomery bus boycott all the way to his assassination at the same time as the FBI constantly monitoring him.”
Crafted solely from restored footage of the time, overlaid with narration of declassified materials, MLK/FBI is an incendiary document of institutional racism and harassment of Civil Rights activists; an urgent document that holds relevance and importance today.
Throughout most of the ‘50s and ‘60s, “no holds were barred”, FBI agents bugged hotel rooms, tapped phones, paid informants, enlisted journalists to write hostile stories about Dr. King, never alerted him to threats on his life, and when King received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, the FBI threatened to blackmail him unless he committed suicide.
MLK/FBI poses essential questions about freedom, civil disobedience, and patriotism; and who is the gatekeeper of the “American dream”, who gets to decide? Questions that are still being asked today.
Talking about the process of sifting through all of the information that enabled Pollard to get this film done, a process he said took only two years, he enthused: “I’ll say this to you, I do love the process.
“I’ve been doing it a long time and the idea of always digging into material be it the text from the FBI or the archival footage or the audio, it’s not to say that’s it not hard, that it’s not time consuming but it’s something that you have to do if you want to make documentary films like these.
“Hopefully you can gather round a group of people who can help you dig into the material and dig into the footage and make it not as overwhelming as it sometimes feels, because it can feel overwhelming, to be quite honest.
“I feel like I love the process more than the finished product sometimes.”
Check out the full interview with Sam Pollard below: