By Dan Clendenin
It’s long been common knowledge that J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI harassed Martin Luther King, Jr., discredited him as one of the most dangerous men in America, and even targeted him as an enemy of the state. Director Sam Pollard’s documentary film is based upon newly declassified government sources that show just how malicious that campaign was, and a note at the end of the film says that there are even more archives to be declassified in the year 2027. The campaign to discredit King began with his close association with the Communist sympathizer Stanley Levison, expanded to secret surveillance of his sex life, and then spread further to discredit his support for LBJ’s war on poverty. As you would expect, Pollard makes extended use of the massive photographic archives of King (black and white), set to the voice over of historians like Beverly Gage of Yale (an expert on Hoover), Clarence Jones (King’s attorney and speech writer), and close associates like Andrew Young. The film doesn’t excuse King’s failures as a person, but it distinguishes them from his contributions as a civil rights activist. Similarly, it does not demonize Hoover, even though you feel like he deserves it. Rather, it suggests that the attacks on King were bigger than Hoover in the sense that the FBI was part of our government apparatus and overall cultural moment. The film reminds you of how badly the United States has betrayed its most fundamental ideals, and that there are good reasons why many people do not trust our government. I watched this film on Hulu.
Dan Clendenin: email@example.com
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