ACMI and AIDC present
Featuring an interview with director Sam Pollard
5 & 8 Mar 2021
See below for additional related events
With newly declassified documents, Sam Pollard sheds light on the FBI’s pursuit of Martin Luther King Jr., and their bid to undermine the American Civil Rights Movement.
Suspenseful, visually engrossing and intellectually bracing.
Stick around after the screening for a prerecorded interview with director Sam Pollard.
A hero is only as good as the villain that seeks to thwart them. Or at least that’s what the conventions of storytelling tell us right in the opening minutes of MLK/FBI. “In the traditional motion picture story, the villains are usual defeated, the ending a happy one,” says a figure about to introduce a feature presentation. “I can make no such promise for the feature you’re about to watch. The story isn’t over.” Of course, real-life is much more nuanced and in part that’s what Sam Pollard's documentary sets out to prove by adding shades of grey to what is considered a traditional black and white story.
Based on Pulitzer Prize-winning MLK biographer David J. Garrow’s 1981 book The F.B.I. And Martin Luther King Jr., this film charts the targeted harassment and surveillance of the Civil Rights leader up until his death in 1968. Using newly declassified documents as the narrative backbone, a range of experts weigh in on the revelations, from King’s peers to FBI agents themselves; yet not as talking heads. In fact, it’s only in the final minutes of the film that we see who the voices that have been narrating this journey belong to. The focus is instead on a wealth of archival footage sourced by Brian Becker – who worked on the Oscar-winning O.J: Made In America – and curated by the filmmakers, offering unique insight into the time and place of the film. Historic events like the March On Washington are seen from new perspectives, while rare footage shows us elements we’ve never seen before: the racial bias in newsreels from the time and the weight of pop cultural leanings that would often position black sexuality as justifications for murder, abuse and persecution.
Over his forty-year career, Sam Pollard has established himself as the preeminent documentarian of the black experience in America. His insight into not just historical events and figures significant to African American history, but modern language and the culture more broadly has seen him nominated for an Academy Award alongside Spike Lee and win multiple Emmys. His credentials are never in question, but the curiosity is always about what subject he will lend his unique perspective to next: whether that be the Atlanta child murders or the election of Barack Obama. MLK/FBI is the perfect merging of Pollard’s extensive area of expertise, with the FBI’s obsession with Martin Luther King Jr. much more than just a good vs bad tale. It’s more complex, involving history, politics, sexuality, repression, religion, and civil rights all intermingled like a complex puzzle in what is considered the “darkest part of the Bureau’s history”.
– Maria Lewis, Assistant Curator, Film
READ: MLK/FBI forbids us to relax
Anthony Lane, The New York, Jan 2021
READ: MLK/FBI Documentary Chronicles a Yearslong Campaign of Government Harassment
Chris Lee, Vulture, Jan 2021
LISTEN: Sam Pollard on MLK/FBI
Larry Milmore, The Ringer, Jan 2021