King in the Wilderness

Movie review by
Barbara Shulgasser-Parker, Common Sense Media
King in the Wilderness Movie Poster Image
Docu examines last years of MLK's life; language, violence.
  • NR
  • 2018
  • 111 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

"I don't know if I'll get there but my people will." "No matter who you are, you are somebody." Anticipating an early and violent end, King lived as if each day could be his last. "Organize, baby, organize." The only way to redeem the soul of America is to remove racism.

Positive Role Models

King was a compassionate, empathetic, thoughtful leader with strong moral convictions about the need to end segregation and discrimination against people of color in housing, employment, education. He later included people of all colors in his quest to end poverty. He emphasized the need to make changes nonviolently. He didn't deny his flaws and human failings.

Violence

King is shot in the face and killed. His body is seen in an open casket. Images of police beating peaceful Black protesters are shown, as are images of White supremacists and Nazis beating protesters. King and others are pelted with rocks as they march. A person is shot during a march. Images from the Vietnam War are also shown. In the wake of an overblown Red Scare that dominated American politics during the 1950s, King was accused of being a Communist. Nazi signage and imagery as well as Confederate flags are on display.

Sex

In an abuse of power, the FBI, which called King "the most dangerous Negro in America" in its dossier, surveilled King and learned of his extramarital affairs, using the information to blackmail him into being less critical of the FBI.

Language

The "N" word, "f--k," "negro," and "damn."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that the 2018 documentary King in the Wilderness looks back at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s evolution as a nonviolent leader for civil rights and his role in the fight against poverty among all races in America. His commitment and sense of moral obligation to put himself in harm's way in the name of human rights makes him a model for the kind of grit and determination that many parents would want their kids to emulate. Friends and colleagues from the 1960s recount how he made difficult decisions and recount his certainty that, like Moses, he would lead his followers to the Promised Land, but sacrifice himself to get them there. Many suggest that much of the progress forged after his assassination in the areas of racial equality and awareness of poverty directly flow from his work. Language includes the "N" word, "f--k," "negro," and "damn," and disturbing newsreels of violence against peaceful Black protestors illustrate scenes that sadly echo acts of violence against unarmed Black people recently depicted in the news. King was shot in the face and killed in Memphis in 1968, and that day is described. His body is shown in an open casket. Nazi signage and imagery as well as Confederate flags are on display. King's extramarital affairs are mentioned.

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What's the story?

In KING IN THE WILDERNESS, 50 years after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination, witnesses to his struggles speak about his good work, his decency, his dedication, and his sense of moral responsibility to help achieve equal rights for all in the United States. This lovingly-constructed documentary takes an unblinking look at King, warts and all, and traces the line of his thoughtful and nonviolent activism to the progress that came after him and continues to inspire today. A high school graduate at 15 with a doctorate at 26, King soon became regarded as Old Guard by younger leaders. One charismatic next generation leader, Stokely Carmichael, first supported King and then broke away, expressing a need to view violence as a reasonable response to beatings and jailings of Black people. King, understanding the impatience, steadfastly held to nonviolent methods, convinced that answering violence with violence would strip his leadership of its moral underpinnings. Singer-activists Harry Belafonte and Joan Baez, as well as former Atlanta mayor Andrew Young and Congressman John Lewis, speak of King's qualities and his fight to end discrimination against Black people in housing, education and employment. King faced many dilemmas, including the need to criticize President Lyndon Johnson's Vietnam war position, even after Johnson twisted congressional arms to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Is it any good?

This is a comprehensive retrospective look at King and his influence through the eyes of friends and colleagues who were there, marching and pushing for change with him. King in the Wilderness makes the great looming historical figure human, emphasizing the difficulties King faced as he weighed the views of all stakeholders and still pushed ahead based on his sense of moral obligation to fight segregation and other inequalities nonviolently. In one example, a White woman spits in his face and he replies, "You are much too beautiful to be so mean." While today we may read sexist undertones into his response, the effect was humanizing and the woman later returned to apologize for being so rude.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what it means to be driven by a moral obligation to help give a voice to the voiceless and to relieve the burden of racism and poverty. What sacrifices did King make as he worked to solve such problems?

  • Why do you think some in the U.S. government found King's work threatening?

  • King was far from a perfect person. Why do you think the FBI threatened to expose his extramarital affairs? Did the FBI exert pressure on him to tone down his anti-racist activities? How do you think giving equal rights to people of color threatened the U.S government of the 1960s?

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Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love African American stories

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