This film–a very timely look, particularly with what’s going on now, at this very moment–is quite a detailed look at the real Martin Luther King and the real Federal Bureau of Investigation. With the sheets pulled off everybody, this film is almost an intellectual nudist camp, allowing the viewer to absorb an-often sordid story that, as Ronald Reagan (!) warns at the beginning, isn’t pretty. Yep, King’s extramarital sextape is real, and the FBI did try its best within its own twisted bounds of evil legality to destroy him. Along the way, the viewer sees King’s trajectory through the eyes of the Federal Bureau of Investigation–the radical King, the one only the Left or Black nationalists talk about. The filmmakers punk out at the end, though, choosing not to sift through the detail of the assassination itself and not explaining the larger and smaller intelligence agencies, or philosophies thereof, at work. (The Black context of King’s death is here, in what seems to be a 1969 episode of Black Journal, when the national black public-affairs television show and the wound were both still fresh.) The oral-history-format (just voices, no speaking-heads until the very end) and extensive use of file footage, from newsreels to television shows, is combined with the fine-tooth-comb research of David Garrow and others. This is the proper documentary to watch as America’s scabs are bleeding.
1) Now everyone will see Newark the way I see it: as a small town. Treating it as a “small town with deadly secrets” was amusing. It is a place where, if you ride a bus or sit somewhere and be quiet, you will hear Old Heads talk about their time with The Nation. Now I finally understand why, in a city where historically you can get killed for looking at someone wrong, Bradley was able to walk around untouched. You also now know that we, as a group, care more about collective, community advancement than ideology and argument: the comment by Newark Mayor Ras Baraka that he learned from his father to “leave that alone because that won’t advance our cause” is classic Newark. Congrats to my brother, Baba Zayid Muhammad, for his honesty in this documentary. He educated me a lot about what this Black Power city is still like. I absolutely believe that Newark “got there first” in Black Power zealotry.
2) Continuing with Newark: why would Bradley be in Booker’s Newark mayor campaign commercial? Why would New Jersey Lt. Gov. Shelia Oliver be at Bradley’s funeral when she knew?!? Point-blank, Newark is a community service city, and all the community servants know each other. If you do “change your life around” and “do something positive,” particularly for our youth, we wipe your slate clean. That how we be. If Bradley had killed, say, Rahim Johnson, it wouldn’t even be brought up.
3) Last Newark note: I love the irony of Bradley’s high school being eventually being renamed after Malcolm. 🙂
4) It was extremely annoying that Peter Goldman, who wrote 85 percent of this documentary’s content back in the 1970s (!!!!!), was almost invisible, blotted out. The only thing more annoying is that Baba Zak Kondo was “second historical bananna” to David Garrow–this documentary’s Obi-Wan Kenobi. Kondo should have been the main voice here, and his wrap-up almost redeems this time-waster.
5) The big winner here was WABC-TV, who clearly sold a lot of footage. (Why did the documentarians keep misdating that Talmadge Hayer interview as 1970? That was very annoying and needs to be fixed!) See how great “Like It Is” was, folks outside of New York? Today I am very proud to have a doctoral dissertation that has a small part devoted to it. I will appreciate this Nextflix series forever if it leads to the show finally getting archived.
6) The “search” for Bradley was ridiculous stagecraft. And where were articles like these, since Bradley was so difficult to find? LOL! This program could have easily been cut by three hours. The phony drama should have been replaced with more on the Ali-Malcolm schism. That deserves its own doc or movie.
7) And speaking of future MX media products, my vote for the next movie or documentary needs to be solely based on his extraordinary travel diary. The fact that Malcolm tried to unify the African-Muslim world–and that he chose to return to America when he had choices to possibly stay alive longer–is a story that desperately needs to be told.
8) Um, where was this part? Did I miss it when I was in the bathroom? Did I miss any mention of the Minister? What’s going on? And if Goldman and Kondo were read so carefully, why didn’t Obi-Wan tell Luke that the FBI reported that Louis X was at the Newark mosque on the day of the assassination?!?
9) This could have been a lot worse, seeing that Henry Louis “Skip” Gates was the exec producer and Manning Marable’s wife a consultant. At least this is better than Spike’s treatment. This puts Spike’s movie in the fiction category the way Marable’s disastrous bio, at its best, put The Autobiography in that same category.
Here’s the block that got cut out, about the biographer and the his approach:
If there is ever to be a Hall of Fame for post-World War II American biographers, David Garrow has worked undeniably hard for his statue. The energy and sweat required of a great biographer are present. The book’s promotional material says Garrow does research worthy of Robert Caro, the man who has devoted half his life to writing about Lyndon Baines Johnson, and the hype is right. His thousands of resources include The Chicago Defender and several weekly newspapers, which allows him to use facts and statements others have forgotten. He had access to an incredible amount of detail, and decided to use (almost all of) it, to give the reader almost a month-by-month portrayal of 46 years.
Since the fable is so well-known, Garrow needed to perform a tragedy to give the reader a reason to re-visit this territory. He constantly prepared the reader for disappointment, showing that the potential compromises were there all along under the winning smile and Black Kennedy mystique: “[W]hile the crucible of self-creation had produced an ironclad will, the vessel was hollow at its core.”
The so-called hot news of the book—that Barack Obama, a young, over-educated, tall, handsome, single Black man, had a lot of sex before he got married and that he asked his serious live-in girlfriend, a half-white, half-Japanese woman named Shelia Miyoshi Jager, to marry him—is a complete yawner. The story that Garrow tells as he outs Jager is that Obama broke up with her because he needed a Black woman (World History, meet Michelle Robinson) to be a successful Black politician. So what that he asked another woman to marry him? Choosing a wife is a life-effecting process, not just a political one. It is possible that Obama made the decisions he did for purely Machiavellian reasons, but it is equally possible that Obama, a Half-rican, purposely chose a one-hundred-percent American Negress so he could have an authentic Black family. Just because he loved Jager doesn’t mean he was supposed to spend his life with her, and just because they wanted to marry doesn’t mean history was somehow thwarted by ambition.
Garrow is filled with critique—of Obama and of crush-ing Obama journalists and biographers. In his blistering epilogue, Garrow skips the most obvious reason his presidency was impotent: the intent of the Republican Party to oppose him on everything, from the administration’s first day. The epilogue is so intent on being critical—and it should, considering it’s about a man constantly compromised in ways he sees as pragmatic and necessary—it seems not to care where the criticisms originate. Meanwhile, Garrow ignores the most biting Leftist jabs. Strange choices for a left-of-center author. Garrow finds every disappointed friend, every Obama enemy, every teacher and influence he can, and includes them along with seemingly every colleague who at any point praised him. Jager accusing the president of political cowardice is the high-note of a critical symphony.