The American Experience: Season 16, Episode 4

Citizen King (19 Jan. 2004)

TV Episode  -   -  Documentary | History
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A documentary that draws on input from a broad cross-section of people to examine to last five years of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s life.

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, (as W. Noland Walker)
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A documentary that draws on input from a broad cross-section of people to examine to last five years of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s life.

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A more human portrait of a great man
3 January 2013 | by (US) – See all my reviews

One of the better, more important films on Dr. King, for being "minor". Let me explain. There have already been a number of first rate documentaries that focused on the amazing sweep of King's life and work. And those films (e.g. "King A Filmed Record… From Montgomery to Memphis") are probably better places to start for those who aren't familiar with the amazing accomplishments of this great, once in a century human being – the rare person who actually visibly changes the tide of history for the good.

But what this film does that is so valuable, different and moving is, through a combination of interviews with those close to King, home movies, and footage I've certainly never seen before, along with focusing on some of the speeches and political moments that haven't been played so many times, is create a portrait of King as a man, not a saint. Vulnerable, human, able to make mistakes (his affairs are acknowledged, though not dwelt upon or over dramatized), exhausted, pulled in different directions politically. But in the very act of showing his imperfections, it makes his accomplishments all the more breathtaking, his endless dedication, and willingness to face danger and death first for his own people, and then for all oppressed and needy people everywhere all the more amazing and inspirational. If this film shows King was 'just a man', it also implies that what he accomplished is something available to all of us if we have the courage and fortitude to take up the mantle of what he fought for.

It's important to see King didn't always win, that sometimes he faced situations with no good choices (as when a peaceful march he was leading started to turn violent and he 'abandoned' the march, because it would have been a betrayal of everything he stood for to be seen as being a part of the violence, even though his leaving lead to charges of being cowardly). It somehow makes the odds he really fought all his life even more clear. He wasn't a magician, he wasn't God, he was just a person who put the good of others, and his beliefs in non- violent change ahead of his own life. It's wonderful to see him laugh, to see him with his family, to hear about his personal reactions to winning the Nobel Prize for peace, his struggling with how to extend his movement from small city south to big city north, from a movement for black civil rights, to a movement to raise the lot of the poor and ill used – costing him tremendous political capitol and some popularity. This film manages to make one of our great heroes human, without diminishing one bit his heroism. And that's a lofty and worthwhile accomplishment.


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