A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Documentary provides a basic overview of the life and times of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and how the nonviolent protests he led, as well as his rousing and immortal speeches, inspired millions of Americans to confront the injustices of segregation and Jim Crow laws in the Deep South.
Positive Role Models
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. practiced nonviolence and Christian love in the face of violent responses to the protests against segregation and Jim Crow laws in the Deep South. His adherence to these principles never wavered, even as many younger Civil Rights activists and leaders wanted to respond to violence in kind. He inspired and continues to inspire millions with his words and actions.
The documentary doesn't sugarcoat the growing divisions in the Civil Rights Movement between those who followed and practiced nonviolent forms of protest against racism and injustice in America, and those who advocated responding to violence by fighting back. King desired racial equality and unity rather than divisiveness and separatism, and archival footage shows many White Americans taking part in Civil Rights marches and protests in the 1950s and '60s, including some who, like King and other African American civil rights leaders like Medgar Evers, were murdered for their activism.
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Violence & Scariness
Archival news and film footage of the Birmingham Police Department's brutal response to the nonviolent protests led by Dr. King -- including police clubbing protestors, spraying them with firehoses, and releasing police dogs to attack them. Footage of the aftermath of bombings of Dr. King's house and of churches. Archival photos of lynchings. Archival footage of the riots in American cities in 1967, and the riots that occurred in nearly every American city in the aftermath of Dr. King's assassination in 1968. Archival footage of fighting during the Vietnam War.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Cigarette smoking in archival protest footage from the 1950s and '60s.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: A Historical Perspective is a 1994 documentary on the life, actions, and legacy of the revered civil rights leader. At a little under an hour, it's a good documentary for getting a comprehensive overview of Dr. King's background, his practice and preaching of nonviolent protest against the injustices of segregation and Jim Crow laws in the Deep South, and how he later spoke out against the institutional racism of housing and poverty that existed throughout America before he was assassinated in April 1968. There is considerable archival news footage of violent police responses to Dr. King's protests in Alabama, including police clubbing protestors, shooting water from firehoses, and sending police dogs to attack protestors. Footage of the aftermath of the bombing of King's house, and of the 16h Street Baptist Church Bombing in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963 that killed four young girls. Archival photographs of lynchings. Archival footage of the riots in American cities in 1967, as well as of the riots that occurred in most American cities in the aftermath of Dr. King's assassination. Archival footage of fighting during the Vietnam War. Cigarette smoking in archival footage. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
This is a comprehensive and brief overview of Dr. King's life, actions, and legacy. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: A Historical Perspective does a solid job of providing a basic context to who Dr. King was, how he was influenced to practice nonviolence, the challenges in maintaining nonviolent responses to the vicious responses of state and local officials as well as White supremacists, and how his words and actions inspired a nation to confront Jim Crow laws, segregation, and the lasting damage of slavery and racism in all forms. It effectively captures the chaos and unrest of 1960s America, and the less-discussed aspects of Dr. King's activism after his immortal "I Have a Dream" speech in 1963, such as his opposition to the Vietnam War, and leading marches and protests against the institutional racism of larger northern cities that manifested itself in poverty and inadequate housing.
It's a documentary from 1994, and there are some dated production values that make the documentary seem like it's best viewed in a junior high social studies class, but in spite of these dated production values, a great deal of information is presented about Dr. King and his life and legacy in a short amount of time, and for those unfamiliar with who Dr. King was and what he stood for, this is a great place to start. It has enough detail to encourage further reading or viewing of specific moments in the life of Dr. King and of the Civil Rights Movement. It's informative and best viewed by those who haven't learned all that they should about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
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