MLK/FBI – Film Review: A demonstration of how the educated black male is public enemy number one
The MLK (Martin Luther King) story is well documented throughout American fiction. His ‘I have a dream speech’ has become something of a linguistic phenomenon for generations exploring a brighter future, where equality is achieved for future generations; a utopian world where people are given opportunities to excel without the drawbacks that race has placed on non-white people throughout modern history.
In this new documentary, “(MLK/FBI)” we are taken into a living nightmare, that I was partially privy to, thanks to the works of Ava DuVernay with David Oyelowo’s portrayal of King in SELMA (It is still haunting that Oyelowo was not afforded an Oscar nomination for his performance) but I digress.
Academy nominee, Sam Pollards’ black and white documentary symbolically and factually provides us with the sinister realisation that King was indeed the subject and target of J.Edgar Hoover’s FBI establishment, built on the foundations of obtaining intelligence on anyone who was deemed ‘subversive’ and a threat to the American way of life. The declassified files are available and what they reveal is disturbing but not entirely shocking.
Black (Negro) subversion: The ideology that black people who speak out against white supremacy or any other injustice are extremist, dangerous and to be destroyed.
In the FBI files, it appears that Hoover expressed grave concern about King as a subversive character and that he was the most ‘dangerous liar..negro in America’ and indeed a dangerous threat to the American agenda. He became a walking target for the FBI and subconsciously he knew it.
The film then unveils something I wasn’t aware of – Kings friendship with white communist party member Sam Levison and how this lands on the FBI’s radar. Worse than a black messiah, was a black messiah who had ties with a communist. Even though Levisons communist activities are not deemed as a concern to the FBI, they decide to focus in on Kings relationship with Levison and record his every movement.
The tapes begin to unearth another matter, the private issue of King’s love life. This particular finding quickly becomes the focus of the investigation, in an attempt to dismantle King’s public image as a husband, father, man of faith and leader.
The ideology of the black male in America was the negro male is/was sub-human, a sexual predator, an unruly beast that requires taming back the orderly and dutiful white male – a narrative that was carefully orchestrated during transatlantic slavery and emboldened the horrifying act (amongst others) of castration (the removal of the male genitals) as a physical, spiritual and symbolic way of ensuring that the black male was powerless.
This characterisation of the black male was then used in early Hollywood depictions on screen and still continues to be an image that lives long in the memory of non-black people when looking at the disproportionate representation of black men in the judicial system, globally. This same ideology was constructed against MLK by Hoover to justify the use of excessive torment to unravel and intimidate King. In many ways, the FBI had King by the proverbial balls, and where squeezing him from all angles.
King’s eventual unveiling was his deep concern for the Vietnam war. The images of children disfigured by the American bombs drove him to compromise his relationship with President Lyndon B. Johnson, who was an ally of King’s up until this point.