*MLK/FBI director Sam Pollard is speaking out about the acclaimed documentary based on the government’s history of targeting Black activists.
According to the official synopsis, the doc is an essential expose of the surveillance and harassment of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (labeled by the FBI as the “most dangerous” Black person in America), undertaken by J. Edgar Hoover and the U.S. government.
The Emmy Award-winner and Oscar-nominee delves into the years when the FBI relentlessly spied on civil rights activist and leader Martin Luther King, Jr.
The film premiered at 2020’s Toronto International Film Festival amid the wake of Black Lives Matter protests around the country. It was released theatrically and on VOD on Jan. 15, on Martin Luther King Day.
Check out excerpts below from Pollard’s conversation with TheWrap
A new film reveals how the FBI spied on Martin Luther King, shortly after he led the march on Washington in 1963.
Documentary maker Sam Pollard managed to uncover FBI documents, sourced secret White House phone calls and found forgotten footage of Kinghttps://t.co/GqHQ5EBd3f pic.twitter.com/bkfbE8WGju
— BBC News (World) (@BBCWorld) January 17, 2021
Obviously, we’re at a time when the issues that your film explores are in the forefront of the national conversation. Do you have any sense at this point that people might be more willing to consider these lessons and reckon with the American past now?
Well, I feel like in the last (few) months, that’s been the case, but let’s see how long it lasts. I’ve been around the block a few times. Things don’t always turn out the way you want them, but it seems like America has reached a tipping point and let’s hope that things will change in a very substantial way.
I mean, I grew up in New York City — I didn’t grow up like my dad in Mississippi or my mother in Georgia, who had to live through the years of segregation. But it still existed even when I was growing up, not so much in New York as in other places in America. And police brutality against Black men and Black women still exists, so let’s hope that the protests in the streets and the fact that communities are being galvanized can make progress toward a change in the American psyche.
What led you to tell this particular story?
My producer, Benjamin Hedin, came to me and said he had just read this very interesting book about Dr. King and the FBI and J. Edgar Hoover and the surveillance of King in the ’60s. So I read the book and thought it would be wonderful to make a very serious and intense documentary about how the FBI and J. Edgar Hoover felt that they wanted to discredit Dr. King and his role in the civil rights movement.
Your film is focused on the FBI surveillance, but it expands well beyond that to address Dr. King’s impact on society and on race in America.
We felt that it was important to do both. You’re telling parallel stories. You want to look at what the FBI was doing, but you also want to get a feeling of the trajectory of King and (the Southern Christian Leadership Conference), the NAACP and (the Congress of Racial Equality), to see what they were doing in the late ’50s and early ’60s to break the back of segregation in America.
And you also want to look at the fact that the FBI, which had started (the illegal surveillance and infiltration program) COINTELPRO in the ’50s, was not only focusing on people like Dr. King and members of his organization, but by the mid ’60s, they were focusing on people like Angela Davis, the Black Panther party, Malcolm X — they were focusing on anybody they felt was challenging the so-called American way of life.
A lot of the documents that the FBI wrote during their surveillance of Dr. King have been released, but I gather the recordings they made of him can be released in 2027.
That’s supposedly the date, 2027. And as you see in the film, some people don’t think they should be released.
Do you think they should be released?
I do. I do, but who knows with what they’ll do to them? When you get these documents through the Freedom of Information Act, they’re still redacted. You can barely read these things, really.
Read the full interview here.