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Five movies that honour the life of Martin Luther King Jr.


“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

Among one of the most inspirational and influential figures of the 20th century, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr was a powerful social activist and leader of the American civil rights movement from 1955 until his assassination in 1968. Together with the likes of leaders such as W.E.B. Du Bois, Malcolm X and Rosa Parks, King would help to bring about a cultural, political and sociological revolution whereupon black people across America would achieve civil rights by 1964. 

Of course, the history of black civil rights in America is longer and more complex than the occurrences of the 20th century, with the fight for proper civil rights still being struggled for across the United States today. Following the tragic murder of Trayvon Martin at the hands of George Zimmerman, who was later acquitted of all charges, the Black Lives Matter movement was born and has since started a modern revolution for change across the world. 

Such would have arguably not been possible if it wasn’t for the efforts of Martin Luther King Jr. and the fellow pioneers for civil rights that came before him, with the leader truly representing an influential figure of hope in a moment of utter hardship for so many.

On what would’ve been his 93rd birthday, let’s take a look at five films that honour his efforts, as well as those that could not have existed without his perpetual influence. 

Five movies that honour Martin Luther King:

All the Way (Jay Roach, 2016)

Despite never receiving a theatrical release, this HBO TV movie from Bombshell and Trumbo director Jay Roach is a cinematic spectacle, starring Anthony Mackie as Martin Luther King and Bryan Cranston as the 36th President of the United States, Lyndon B. Johnson. 

Chronicling the presidency of Johnson following the assassination of John F. Kennedy in November 1963, Roach’s film tells the story of the new president’s efforts to pass the Civil Rights Act in 1964, focusing on the work of both Johnson and King in order to do so. Excellently portrayed by Anthony Mackie, the story of Martin Luther King is given the tribute it deserves in this politically rousing and socially pertinent film.

Get On The Bus (Spike Lee, 1996)

An influential filmmaker of 20th-century cinema, particularly in his stories of racial injustice, director Spike Lee has tackled the issue of American civil rights several times throughout his career 1989’s Do the Right Thing to 2018’s BlackKkKlansman. 

Often overlooked, it is his 1996 film Get On The Bus that still carries the same particular power and pertinence to this very day, following 20 black men on a coach journey from L.A to Washington D.C for the Million Man March. Whilst the film takes place following the death of Martin Luther King, his sentiment of peaceful protest, conversation and understanding of such matters from person-to-person resonates in Lee’s complex work.

I Am Not Your Negro (Raoul Peck, 2016)

Based on an unfinished project by writer and activist James Baldwin named Remember This House, this revolutionary documentary directed by Raoul Peck tells the modern history of race relations in the USA. 

Detailing the personal accounts, lives and assassinations of three revolutionary public figures, and close friends of Baldwin, Martin Luther King, Jr, Malcolm X and Medgar Evers, I Am Not Your Negro is a galvanizing documentary that is bold in its execution. Offering a comprehensive insight into the efforts of such pioneers of civil rights, Raoul Peck’s film also evaluates just how far society is yet to go to reach true equality. 

King in the Wilderness (Peter Kunhardt, 2018)

Examining the very final years of the life of Martin Luther King Jr. King in the Wilderness offers a fascinating insight into the personality of the iconic figure whilst documenting his extraordinary efforts to create a better place for black people across America. 

From Peter Kunhardt, the same filmmaker behind similar documentaries, True Justice: Bryan Stevenson’s Fight for Equality and Living with Lincoln, this 2018 HBO film offers a fair and balanced view of the figure. Whilst famously non-violent in his methods throughout his life, the documentary touches on his tendency towards physical methods towards the end of his life whilst reflecting the man’s own struggling moral psyche.  

Selma (Ava DuVernay, 2015)

The most well-known depiction of the life of Martin Luther King Jr. comes in the Oscar-nominated drama from Ava DuVernay that follows the Selma to Montgomery march that took place in 1965. 

Starring David Oyelowo as the man himself, the film follows the iconic march that resulted in President Lyndon B. Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965. A critical and commercial success, Selma was nominated for Academy Awards and Golden Globes for its amplification of an influential moment in civil rights history. The film may well depict the greatest performance of Martin Luther King Jr. ever seen on screen.