Movies to Stream for Martin Luther King Jr. Day


With each year since it was designated a public holiday in 1983, Martin Luther King Jr. Day has acquired a new but immovable meaning. It did so in the year following the Rodney King attack in 1991. It did so in the years following the deaths of Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Freddie Gray. And now, after the deaths of Rep. John Lewis and Rev. CT Vivian last year, the killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, the arrival of the Black Lives Matter protests in the summer, the November presidential election, and the storming of the Capitol in This month by being a pro-Trump mob, the vacation has a lot more meaning. The signs of racism still lurk in our government, in our elections and in our law enforcement agencies.

Rather than enumerating revered civil rights films like Ava DuVernay’s “Selma” and Agnès Varda’s “Black Panthers”, undoubtedly important works, this list includes streaming titles from this year and last that speak not only for King’s legacy of racial justice, but also for the continuation and immediate struggle for voting rights and equal treatment according to the law.

Stream it on Amazon.

For 18 years, Fox Rich, a modern day abolitionist, made thousands of home videos for her imprisoned husband, Rob. For her involvement (as a getaway driver) in a robbery her husband and cousin carried out in 1997, Rich served three and a half years, while the court sentenced Rob to 60 years in prison. Garrett Bradley’s impressive black and white film documents the moments Rob lost with his six children and his dedicated wife. In a span of 81 minutes, a delicate adaptation of those heartfelt video messages that record missed birthday parties, passionate speeches, and love letters, Bradley examines not only how the prison’s industrial complex betrays black citizens of much more than time, but also how one woman remained intrepid in her mission to free her husband.

Regina King’s feature film, adapted from the play of the same name by Kemp Powers and loosely based on a true event, concerns four of the most famous black cultural figures of the 1960s – Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), Cassius Clay (Eli Goree), Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) and Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir) – Meet in a Miami hotel room after Clay beat Sonny Liston in 1964. Each actor delivers entertaining one-liners that turn out to be real. And the dialogue they have on the path to racial justice is as heartfelt as it is powerful. In their direction, King lets us wish a second night.

Watch it on demand.

With the many films and historical texts about King, we know that his life was well documented. But Sam Pollard’s “MLK / FBI” shows that it has been tracked a lot more than some have imagined. From 1963 until King’s death, the FBI recorded thousands of hours of audio monitoring of the activist in an attempt to destabilize the civil rights movement. There’s more to this provocative film than just King’s high-flying speeches. It examines the importance of a moral leader. Rumors arise of King having multiple affairs and the FBI’s questionable counter-espionage tactics are being investigated. “MLK / FBI” is a complicated portrayal of an idolized hero. But in the thorniness of the king’s personal story, man’s humanity is redefined.

Stream it on Amazon.

While you should see Steve McQueen’s entire British five-film anthology Small Ax, Mangrove’s civil rights narrative is particularly resonant. Regarding the Mangrove Nine, a group of West Indian protesters brought to trial for rioting in 1970, McQueen is conducting a court battle that sheds light on the racism that has uncovered extrajudicial rifts in the British judicial system. Powerhouse appearances by Letitia Wright as British Black Panther member Altheia Jones-LeCointe and Shaun Parkes as restaurant owner Frank Crichlow drive a film that focuses on the relentless struggle for self-determination.

Stream it on HBO Max.

Representative John Lewis’ ethos “Get in good trouble, necessary trouble” inspires the title of Dawn Porter’s documentary on the civil rights icon. The film covers Lewis’ greatest accomplishments – as the youngest speaker in Washington in March 1963; Leading the march in 1965 over the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala .; and to be elected to Congress – while conveying a lifelong commitment to nonviolent resistance. And only a few productions were more effective than Lewis, who was astonished to watch the footage from his activist life. Porter’s documentary is sentimental yet intrepid, and an essential tribute to Lewis and his struggle.

Stream it on Netflix.

Spike Lee’s “Da 5 Bloods” and George Floyd’s death are inextricably linked. The film about four Black War veterans returning to Vietnam to recover the remains of Stormin ‘Norman (Chadwick Boseman), their fallen commander, and the CIA gold they bury, was released after Floyd was murdered in protest . Through a searing monologue, Paul (Delroy Lindo), the tragic lead actor in the drama who never recovered from the loss of Norman, gives a voice to the generation of black men who are forced to see their friends die in an ungrateful war then return home and find civil rights activists also killed. “Da 5 Bloods” ends with Black Lives Matter singing, and Paul’s belief that his black life matters is the heartbeat of the film.

Stream it on Amazon.

Stacey Abrams remains the woman of the hour. The Democratic candidate for governor of Georgia played an important role not only in Joe Biden’s victory as president of that state, but also in the victories of Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff in the Senate. Abrams’ campaign began long before the 2020 elections, however. In this candid documentary, directors Liz Garbus and Lisa Cortés show how Abrams laid the groundwork for combating decades of electoral disenfranchisement in Georgia and how those efforts resonated beyond the state .