Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
A Defender Special
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In the final years of his life, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was arguably more popular than ever before. He spoke out against racism, capitalism, police brutality and economic inequality. Dr. King never got to see the culmination of his vision come to life; however, his influence has lived on, and will surely continue to live on for generations to come. To celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we put together a collection of films to watch to honor his legacy.
1. Selma (2014)
Selma chronicles the historic voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. David Oyelowo plays Dr. King in the biographical drama detailing the harrowing fight for equality that led to the signing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Helmed by Ava DuVernay, Selma won an Oscar for Best Original Song for the motivational anthem “Glory” by Common and John Legend.
2. King: A Filmed Record… Montgomery to Memphis (1970)
Featuring a collection of rare, archival footage of Dr. King’s speeches and protests, this Oscar-nominated documentary features the likes of Harry Belafonte, Paul Newman, Ruby Dee, James Earl Jones, Charlton Heston, Burt Lancaster, Joanne Woodward, and other Hollywood icons. The three hour doc follows Dr. King’s rise as the face of the Civil Rights Movement, and the cultivation of his nonviolent campaign for economic equality.
3. Boycott (2001)
Jeffrey Wright slips into MLK’s shoes in the made-for-TV drama Boycott, which chronicles the yearlong Montgomery Bus Boycott. The screenplay for the film won a Peabody Award for its refusal to let history “slip into the past.” Terrence Howard, CCH Pounder, Carmen Ejogo, Reg E. Cathey, and Brent Jennings are among the cast.
4. King in the Wilderness (2018)
King in the Wilderness gives a chilling glimpse into the last years of Dr. King’s life. The HBO documentary attempts to take the audience inside Dr. King’s state of mind while covering the roughly two years prior to his assassination at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee. From dealing with near-constant FBI surveillance to the growing opposition to his commitment to nonviolence, King in the Wilderness paints a sobering picture of the civil rights leader’s heroic journey. The film incorporates private and public moments with Dr. King, along with behind-the-scenes footage, archival photographs, phone conversations recorded by President Lyndon B. Johnson, and personal testimonials from Dr. King’s close confidants.
5. MLK/FBI (2020)
Delving deeper into the bureau’s sinister plot to destroy the civil rights leader in a larger attempt to derail the Civil Rights Movement, MLK/FBI is based on previously sealed FBI files proving the federal institution’s efforts to ruin his reputation. Former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover labeled King “the most dangerous negro in America” and vowed to use “every resource to destroy him.” Dr. King is usually shown as a powerful orator and fearless leader in the documentary, MLK/FBI shows some of his vulnerable moments. The film’s director, Sam Pollard, was one of the co-directors behind the Oscar-nominated Eyes on the Prize documentary series, which chronicled the American Civil Rights Movement from 1952 to 1965.
6. The Rosa Parks Story (2002)
Rosa Parks was perhaps one of the most popular figures of the Civil Rights Movement. Her refusal to give up her seat on a bus to a white passenger in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955, and her subsequent arrest, fueled the Montgomery Bus Boycott that lasted nearly an entire year. The Rosa Parks Story offers a firsthand account of Parks’ brave act of defiance that aided in the dismantling of segregation. Angela Bassett stars as the late activist in the made-for-TV film, which also features Cicely Tyson, Peter Francis, Tonea Stewart, and Dexter King as MLK.