'MLK/FBI' Director Risked Tarnishing King's Legacy to Tell a Crucial Story
TIFF 2020: Sam Pollard’s documentary is a densely-packed story about how King was constantly harassed and surveilled by the FBI
Sam Pollard’s new documentary, “MLK/FBI,” lays out a detailed account of the racially-fueled FBI surveillance that hounded Dr. Martin Luther King’s activism throughout the 1950s and ’60s. Pollard worried that by shinning a light on the salacious material and the FBI’s attempts to discredit Dr. King might just be helping the FBI’s cause, but he felt a responsibility to tell the story nonetheless.
“Absolutely, we thought about it,” Pollard said during TheWrap’s virtual studio for the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival. After repeatedly talking it over with producer Benjamin Hedin, the two were compelled to press forward.
“Here we are, almost 40, 50 years later and we just thought it was important to document this very complicated and densely packed story about how King was constantly being harassed and surveilled by J. Edgar Hoover, William Sullivan and the FBI,” Pollard said
As a student of the civil rights movement, Pollard said he was aware of the FBI’s charge to bring down King and label him as “the most dangerous Negro in America, and we have to use every resource at our disposal to destroy him.” But “MLK/FBI” is the first film to delve into the extent of the FBI’s surveillance and harassment of King. It’s based on newly-discovered and declassified files and utilizes a trove of documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and unsealed by the National Archives.
Ultimately, though, Pollard said he doesn’t think there is any way the documentary could ever tarnish the name or legacy of Dr. King.
“What’s fascinating is, think back to the 1950s and 1960s in America. In 1955, Dr. King comes on the scene when he basically leads and supports the Montgomery Bus Boycotts. He becomes a threat to the notion of what America should be,” Pollard said.
“America — to many white people, quite honestly — was [that] African Americans knew their place. They didn’t want to make waves… But here comes King and his band of followers, and they’re saying that’s not the case, and we’re gonna go out there and protest and march and sit in to challenge the notion of the American status quo.”
Watch the interview below.
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