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King (DVD Review)

8 Jun, 2008 By: Holly J. Wagner


Street 6/10/08
$24.95 DVD
Not rated.

Every fifth-grader in America has heard Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s famed “I Have A Dream” speech at least once. Most of our understanding of his life is reduced to that speech and a series of major events in which he was involved, including his assassination.But there is so much more to his story. This two-hour History Channel portrait examines King's life through people who were closest to him — his children, fellow pastors and their families — and those whom he influenced — the likes of former President Bill Clinton, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and activist entertainer Harry Belafonte.

Comments from contemporary personalities such as Clinton, U2 frontman Bono and actor Forrest Whittaker help make this doc accessible to audiences of today. It's easy to forget, 45 years later, how violent and terrifying the worst moments of the Civil Rights movement were. News clips of massive police beatings, firehose assaults and protest marches make the era real again, in all its promise, brutality and shame.

Tom Brokaw narrates and interviews many of the commentators, who offer context as well as personal memories of historic events. Rice recalls that one of the girls killed in an Alabama church bombing was a kindergarten classmate. A more-touching, and jarring, reminder of reality is a comment made by his son Martin Luther King III: “We only remember him as children.”

The movie stops short of sainting King but definitely focuses on the most positive aspects of his character. This account neatly avoids mention of King's personal flaws, including well-documented extramarital affairs.

Still, it includes a good historical record of the conditions that drove the Civil Rights movement, and often drive rebellions in other parts of the world.

The sole bonus feature, “Voices of Civil Rights,” is built of interviews done in 2004 with regular folks (and a few celebs) telling personal experiences, divided roughly by periods that led to major events. It gives insights beyond the newsreels that make the era more real by illustrating the casual acceptance that gave way to violent defenses of racism.

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