10 January 2019 | paul-allaer
Surprisingly fresh look at MLK's final 2 years
"King In the Wilderness" (2018 release; 112 min.) is a documentary about Martin Luther King's roughly last two years. As the movie opens, we are reminded that MLK was murdered on "April 4, 1968" and that "50 years later, friends recall his last years". We then go to "Atlanta, Georgia", where we hear about his kids begging King to not go to Memphis on that fateful day. It's not long before we then go back in time to "Ebenezer Baptist Church, May 8, 1967", where King is interviewed about his involvement in the civil rights movement and the peace movement (the interview takes place a month after King's groundbreaking anti-Vietnam speech in New York). At this point we are 10 min. into the documentary, but to tell you more of the 'plot' would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.
Couple of comments: this is the latest TV documentary from veteran filmmaker Peter Junhardt ("Becoming Warren Buffett", "Nixon by Nixon: In His Own Words"). Here Junhardt revisits Martin Luther King's last 18-24 months, and the results of this "refresh" are quite remarkable. Yes, we get a good sense of the fabled public speaker that he was, and yes, we also get s good sense how hard he was on himself, "he worried about dying before he had accomplished enough", comments one of the talking heads. But what sets this documentary apart is that is showcases like never before the incredible anguish King experienced in that time frame, resulting from his long silence on Vietnam so as not to offend President Johnson (who had done much to support the civil rights movement). Even more palpable is the tremendous pressure on King from many different sides to support yet more causes (the "poor people's campaign", the extension of his Southern Christian Leadership Conference into the north (Chicago, specifically), etc., etc. King is overextended, exhausted, and frustrated, all while he continues his work relentlessly." The documentary features rare footage that I had never seen before. Check out the surprise party the CSLC staff throws on King's birthday on January 15, 1967, where the camera catches King in a broad smile (a rare thing in his last year). And of course the documentary is peppered with memorable quotes from King, such as "It's not how long you live, it's how well you live", and later on "To be free, one must overcome the love of wealth and the fear of death", wow, just wow. Andrew Young, Jesse Jackson, and many other prominent figures who worked closely with MLK address the camera (and us) extensively throughout the documentary.
HBO commissioned this documentary for the 50th anniversary of King's assassination. Somehow I missed this when it premiered last April, but recently I stumbled on this while looking for something good on HBO On Demand. So glad I finally caught this. If you have an interest in American history and politics, I strongly encourage you to check this out, be it on VOD or on DVD, and draw your own conclusion. In my book, "King In the Wilderness" is a WINNER.