Noovie 9: Movies to Watch on MLK Day

On MLK Day, there are a lot of different movies you can watch to honor the legendary civil rights leader. Here are 9 specifically about Dr. King.

By Chuck Walton

Martin Luther King, Jr. in "MLK/FBI."

© IFC Films /Courtesy Everett Collection.

With so much going on in the world today and especially this week, it's more important than ever to honor MLK Day. While our country wrestles with issues of racism and equality for all, looking back at the history and achievements and dreams of Martin Luther King Jr. can help both to inspire and challenge to realizeus his vision.

Below, we're recommending 9 films and documentaries that are all a direct part of the story of the man and his legacy.

MLK/FBI

Newly released in time for MLK Day 2021, "MLK/FBI" is based on recently declassified files, and outlines how the US government spent years tracking, surveilling and harassing the activist. Using archive footage and period films, director Sam Pollard makes the case that FBI director J. Edgar Hoover feared that King would upset the nation's segregated status quo, and used all of the agency's investigative weight to dig up dirt against King – in the hope that details from his personal life would chip away at any notion that he was an ideal leader.

Watch now on Prime Video

MLK/FBI

Documentary / 2020

Selma

Director Ava DuVernay's "Selma" stars David Oyelowo in a powerful, fully realized performance as Martin Luther King Jr., as not only an acclaimed civil rights leader, but a three-dimensional human being who had his doubts and imperfections, just like any of us. "Selma" focuses on the 1965 voting rights march from Selma, Alabama, to Montgomery. Caught in conflict in this highly charged atmosphere are MLK and his supporters, the racist forces at work in the deep south, and the federal government, headed by President Lyndon B. Johnson. In large part due to King and his supporters solidarity during that critical march, Johnson is compelled to sign the 1965 Voting Rights which prohibits racial discrimination in voting.

Watch now on Prime Video

Selma

Drama / 2014 / PG-13

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I Am MLK Jr.

Through interviews with those who knew him, and those influencers who've been influenced by him, this documentary seeks to illuminate King's character, and why it resonated during his era and the generations that followed. Among the interviewees: the late, legendary Congressman John Lewis, Reverend Al Sharpton, activist Diane Nash, CNN's Van Jones and more. Adding to its impact, the documentary interviews are shot in the same churches from which Reverend King preached to his followers.

Watch now on Vudu

I Am MLK Jr.

Documentary / 2018

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King: A Filmed Record; From Montgomery to Memphis

At three-plus hours long, this documentary gives a thorough and in-depth accounting of King's life at the front of the civil rights movement. It is truly absorbing history told through footage from the day and first-hand accounts. Ultimately, it is necessary education about the importance of the man to his country and the world, and a reminder of all the work we still have yet to do to achieve MLK's dream.

Watch now on YouTube

King: A Filmed Record... Montgomery to Memphis

Documentary / 1970

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King in the Wilderness

This 2018 documentary, which debuted at the Sundance Film Festival, covers the time period from 1965 through to King's assassination in 1968. It's a probing examination of King's purpose behind his commitment to nonviolence, and also focuses on his relationship with both black leaders and those in the seat of government power (primarily, J. Edgar Hoover and Lyndon Johnson).

Watch now on HBOMax

King in the Wilderness

Documentary / 2018

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The Witness: From the Balcony of Room 306

Nominated for an Oscar, "The Witness: From the Balcony of Room 306" is a half-hour documentary that recalls the last hours of Martin Luther King Jr.'s life from the eyewitness perspective of Reverend Samuel "Billy" Kyles, who was standing beside Dr. King when he was shot. The interview with Reverend Kyles is intimate and tragic.

Boycott

The critically important 1955-1956 Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott, which started when Rosa Parks refused to take a backseat on the bus, is the focus of this made-for-tv movie (winner of a 2001 Peabody Award). Jeffrey Wright stars as MLK, who balances his family life with his responsibilities to the cause of civil rights, evolving into a leadership role that would reverberate throughout history.

Watch now on HBOMax

King: Man of Peace in a Time of War

This MLK film includes exclusive interviews with notable figures like Jesse Jackson and Colin Powell, but the centerpiece is an interview that hadn't been aired for more than 40 years with Martin Luther King Jr. himself. On a 1967 episode of the Mike Douglas Show, King has a casual yet eloquent conversation with the host and singer Tony Martin about the need for civil rights, and the racial inequities at that time both at home and for blacks serving in the Vietnam War.

Watch now for free on Tubi

In Remembrance of Martin

With interviews of King's wife Coretta Scott, as well as Jimmy Carter, Jesse Jackson, John Lewis and others, "In Remembrance of Martin," produced in 1986, is an hour-long PBS Documentary that, while not as recent as many of the others we're recommending, does an outstanding job via oral history of covering the entire history of Dr. King's life, and all that he was able to do in his 39 years here on earth.

Watch now on Prime Video

About the Author

Chuck Walton

Chuck is an editor/writer who's worked for NCM, Fandango, Movies.com, MediaTrip, Hollywood.com and Newsweek. His favorite movie is "Jaws." He's definitely a dog guy.

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