‘MLK/FBI’: Sam Pollard documents the human side of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the FBI’s controversial surveillance of his final years

In order to make sense of newly declassified documents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s surveillance of Martin Luther King, Jr. in the 1960s, filmmaker Sam Pollard brought together some of the country’s most knowledgeable minds in American literature and politics to tell the story. Pulitzer Prize winning author David Garrow, civil rights activist Andrew Young and former director of the FBI James Comey are among the names that help unpack the files and narrate Pollard’s enlightening new documentary “MLK/FBI.”

And yet somehow what the documents reveal isn’t the most meaningful takeaway from the film. More importantly, Pollard uses the FBI’s secretive, intrusive and harassing surveillance of King to examine how humanity is something complex and that people and America’s institutions do not operate as either all good or all bad, but can be understood as being both at once. Pollard helps illuminate this idea with testimonials from people like Clarence Jones, one of King’s friends and advisors, who offers an invaluable glimpse into what it was like being close to one of history’s most profound heroes.

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“MLK/FBI” is the latest release in Pollard’s more than 20 years producing, directing and writing documentary television and films. The first feature he produced was 1997’s “4 Little Girls” directed by Spike Lee which earned them both an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary Feature. That film also earned Pollard two Emmy nominations, his first of nine overall of which he won three: two for 2007’s “When the Levee’s Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts” and one for 2010’s “By the People: The Election of Barack Obama.”

If nominated this year, “MLK/FBI” would become the 13th documentary produced or directed by an African American to be up for the Oscar, joining the ranks of films like Raoul Peck‘s “I Am Not Your Negro” from 2016 which used archival footage in similar fashion to take a closer and rare look at the life of another one of America’s influential Black voices, James Baldwin. Pollard himself would also make history as the first African American to be nominated for the award twice.

“MLK/FBI” is set to be released in theaters via IFC Films on January 15, 2021. It currently holds a score of 76 on Metacritic and a 97 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

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