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New film shows Martin Luther King JR was target of FBI spying, blackmail

The Stone of Hope statue is seen at the Martin Luther King Junior Memorial in Washington, DC on July 2, 2018.   -  
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MANDEL NGAN/AFP or licensors


Many films have documented Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. But a new film MLK/FBI takes a new angle and explores how he was spied on by the FBI and the complexities of his personal life.

Oscar-nominated director Sam Pollard said his responsibility with this new documentary was to create an accurate, respectful film taking a look at what King was like as a human being.

"They're going to learn this was a man who was at the head of the civil rights movement and became probably reluctantly at the beginning the leader, when he sort of led the people in the Montgomery bus boycott," said Pollard.

"But at the same time, they had to know that he was being surveilled 24/7 by the FBI you know, every day of his life," he said, adding that his personal life complicated as he was often on the road and had affairs with other women outside his marriage.

King came under scrutiny in 1967 after he delivered his famous anti-Vietnam war speech, known as the Riverside Church speech. It occurred a year before his assassination.

"Realising that he had to take a stance on Vietnam, that he knew, he knew as an intelligent man, he knew that he would get pushback from not only people in his constituency, in the civil rights movement, but from LBJ (Lyndon B. Johnson) and the federal government," Pollard said.

The "most dangerous" Black person in America

In the 1960s, the FBI secretly harassed and spied on King and other civil rights leaders and sent letters and tapes to Mrs. King to try and discredit her husband.

The FBI, under then-Director J. Edgar Hoover, labeled Dr. King the "most dangerous" Black person in America.

In 1977, a judge ordered the files were sealed until 2027 when they will be available publically.

But Pollard doesn't think the files will change people's opinions on him.

"Now, for those who always thought King was a scourge to American society... all it'll do is confirm their feelings about King when they hear something salacious," he said.

"But those of us who still revere Dr. King, we know he was a flawed human being. I don't think it will matter."

"MLK/FBI" opens in select theaters and on-demand on King's birthday, January 15, which is just three days before the US holiday Martin Luther King Jr. Day January 18.

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