Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s impact on America and the world is undeniable. Many of us know about his fight for social and racial equity, we’ve memorized lines and quotes from his powerful speeches and we take time to honor him on his birthday on January 15. But if you want to take a deeper dive into the man who changed history forever, you can start with one of these best Martin Luther King Jr. movies.
These films all touch upon different aspects of Dr. King. Some are kid-friendly, which is a great way to introduce children to his legacy. Others are documentaries that highlight the incredible struggles Dr. King and other civil right activists endured trying to make the world more equitable, and feature people who actually knew him. And then there are Hollywood movies that have brought the life of Dr. King to the masses through the big screen.
You can watch these films anytime of year, but it’s especially important to reflect on Martin Luther King Jr.’s life in January for his birthday, as well as February, during Black History Month. Many of these films and documentaries not only serve as great Black history movies, but they also help facilitate necessary conversations about race.
This film, directed by Ava DuVernay, tells the story of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s fight to secure equal voting rights. It follows his and other activists’ three-month journey to organizing the historic Selma to Montgomery march in 1965 to raise awareness of the discrimination Black voters faced. It’s a must-see.
This documentary dives deep into the United States government’s monitoring and harassment of Martin Luther King, Jr. through the lens of newly declassified files. It shows how the FBI tried to discredit Dr. King throughout his time as an activist.
King: A Filmed Record… Montgomery to Memphis (1969)
Immerse yourself in the key events of the life of Martin Luther King Jr. through this Academy Award-nominated documentary, depicting the 1955 bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, several of his speeches and more. Celebrities including Paul Newman and James Earl Jones help narrate clips of footage.
Our Friend, Martin (1999)
This animated film is a great introduction to the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. for children. It follows two teenagers who are transported back in time and meet with Dr. King at several points in his life.
Boycott brings us to the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement, and follows the story of the yearlong Montgomery Bus Boycott, which was led by a young Martin Luther King Jr. Jeffrey Wright, Terrence Howard, CCH Pounder, Carmen Ejogo, Reg E. Cathey and Brent Jennings star in the film.
Selma, Lord, Selma (1999)
When an 11-year-old girl hears a speech by Martin Luther King, Jr., she becomes moved to join in on the fight for civil rights. This story details how she is tested while marching with King from Selma to Montgomery.
We Are the Dream: The Kids of the Oakland MLK Oratorical Fest (2020)
This documentary follows students who compete in Oakland’s 40th Annual MLK Oratorical Festival. Throughout the competition, children perform spoken word and poetry that draws inspiration from the life of Dr. King.
All The Way (2016)
Though this film centers on President Lyndon B. Johnson, it tells of the struggles he faced while attempting to pass the Civil Rights Act during his first year in office. Martin Luther King was at the forefront of encouraging Johnson to pass the bill.
I Am MLK Jr. (2018)
This documentary honors the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. through the telling of several formative moments of the Civil Rights Movement. The film is feature-length, which includes recordings from King’s friends and associates detailing his impact through the present day.
MLK: The Assassination Tapes
Rediscovered footage tells the story of the events that erupted leading up to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. The documentary also includes interviews with several members of the movement to give first-hand accounts.
A Ripple of Hope (2009)
After a gunman fired a rifle that would fatally wound Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Robert F. Kennedy was called upon to give a campaign speech in an African-American neighborhood, which served as a salve for the city. In several interviews from people who were present, as well as Kennedy aides and associates, the story of that horrific day is recounted.
King in the Wilderness (2018)
Those closest to Dr. Martin Luther King tell the story of the final three years of his life. We hear from Reverend Jesse Jackson, Bernard Lafayette, Jr., Dorothy Cotton and more.
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