Thursday, January 14, 2021

MLK/FBI


     This is a history of Martin Luther King’s courageous fight for civil rights in this country from 1955 to 1968.  From the beginning of his activism, he was a suspect for treason in J. Edgar Hoover’s mind.  The head of the FBI grew up in the south, and maintained an attitude toward Blacks signifying that they are by nature susceptible to “dangerous ideologies” like communism, that they do not have basic American values, and that Black men in particular must be monitored for sexual deviance.  After a protest march in Washington, D.C. and MLK’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, Hoover referred to King as “the most dangerous man in America”, a remarkable statement, given that MLK was always an advocate for nonviolent protest.  Perhaps we should take from this the power of a position of nonviolence.

     The documentary directed by George Pollard is based on a number of biographies about the life of Martin Luther King, Jr., and his leadership in advocating for freedom, equality, and justice for his people and other minorities such as Latinos, Native Americans, Puerto Ricans, and Appalachian whites.  And it’s about the FBI’s continual surveillance of him using wire-taps, bugs, and FBI agents listening in, in an adjoining room, first in efforts to associate him with Stanley D. Levison (activist, CPA, attorney) and the Communist party, then with marital infidelity as a way of publicly embarrassing him and weakening his leadership, in the hope that his followers would abandon him.

     Pollard and his writers Benjamin Hedin and Laura Tomaselli present a coherent, even-handed approach in telling his story and what happened to Martin Luther King, Jr.  David J. Garrow’s biography (The FBI and Martin Luther King, Jr.:  “Solo” to Memphis) is used as a primary source, along with newly declassified documents and interviews of some of his associates and biographers such as personal counselor Clarence Jones, activist and close confident Andrew Young, journalist Marc Perrusquia, historian Beverly Gage, and Professor Donna Murch.  

     The documentary characterizes King’s relationship with the John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson administrations, the continued FBI surveillance on King’s life and its use of informers.  Although King was skeptical when he was first told about the government’s surveillance, he began to realize it was possible, and when he read in a publication about the U.S. using napalm in Vietnam, he was convinced that he could no longer support the U.S. in its war effort.  The effect of these statements on the Johnson administration with all its political troubles had far-reaching effects.

     The documentary does a good job of tracing the roots of racism back to slavery and its persistence through time, and when it comes to light that the FBI has gone so far as sending disparaging letters to King, suggesting he kill himself, James Comey, Former FEI director, is quoted as observing that it was the darkest part of the FBI’s history.” 

    MLK/FBI serves as a useful historical account of the years in the 1950’s when the U.S. was just becoming aware of racial issues and the influence of Martin Luther King Jr., and the 1960’s when protests came to a head around King’s opposition to the Vietnam War.  King is a hero who will be recognized for ages to come.

 

A timely documentary that should be required of all young people in school, and informative as well to those beyond.

 

Grade:  A                                                By Donna R. Copeland




 

Thursday, January 7, 2021

PIECES OF A WOMAN

Vanessa Kirby     Shia LaBeouf     Ellen Burstyn

Benny Safdie     Sarah Snook     Molly Parker

 

     This is a powerful film.  It shows so much sensitivity—toward women and men—I became convinced the writer (a woman) and the director (a man) must have worked hand-in-glove with one another, as well as with the cinematographer.  And sure enough, director Kornel Mundruczo, writer Kata Weber are partners in real life. But with the inclusion of cinematographer Benjamin Loeb, it constitutes the impressive team that brought an artistic, psychologically informed work into being, not excluding the fine actors.  It touches on a number of controversial topics so relevant in our times.

     Pieces of a Woman traces the path from exultation about a first pregnancy in which everything doesn’t go well through the immediate (six months), bombarding effects upon a family.  It details different ways of coping among a number of people and how those differences can have long-term effects.  The film brilliantly chronicles what I have for some time come to realize—that losing a child is probably the worst thing that can happen to someone.  Such a profound experience is sure to foster long-term consequences for those involved.

     Martha (Kirby) and Sean (LaBeouf) appear to love one another intensely, and are overjoyed to be expecting their first child.  Sean is a gruff member of a bridge-building team who has a tender side, making it easy for him to give his wife the support she needs in the pregnancy.  They decide to have a midwife (Parker) for the birth.  How will that go?

     The ensuing events tell the story of how this will all turn out, given the interrelationships we only discover later in the film.  

     Most touching are the scenes showing the breakdown of the relationship between Martha and Sean.  Martha’s adversarial relationship with her mother (Burstyn) is already foretold. Others between Sean and his brother-in-law Chris (Safdie) show the compromised position Chris is in. The relationships woven in between Sean and his mother-in-law, and an attorney (Snook) are plausible additions that enhance the suspense of the story.

     Vanessa Kirby and Shia LeBeouf are well cast as the central couple, and make us believe they’re truly undergoing the pain.  Ellen Burstyn as the interloper-mother-in-law plays her role to the hilt—behind-the scenes manipulator with few scruples.  And, finally, Molly Parker as the accused midwife shows all of what she is supposed to in her role.

     This movie was more difficult to stay with than I expected—primarily because of the long birth sequence (30 minutes).  Maybe the filmmakers needed to show this to people who haven’t had a baby, but for one who has been there (albeit under much less stressful circumstances), I found it hard to watch.  This led to my next question of who is this movie for?  Those who have been under similar circumstances? Perhaps, but I figure few people have gone through anything similar.  There is a thought that perhaps the writer and director have had just such an experience, and the film is a way to express what they went through.  

     At any rate, Pieces of a Woman is worth seeing, particularly for those awaiting a birth of a child and are curious—and if they have secured a midwife.  But otherwise, I’m not sure who will be interested in the film.  Part of my problem is with the title, Pieces of a Woman, which implies that there are only pieces of us.  We are all a whole, so I have no idea what the filmmakers intended.

As a chronicle of childbirth attended by a midwife, this film is excellent. I’m just not sure how many in the general public will find it relevant.

 

Chronicle of the effects of the loss of a newborn child on a family.

 

Grade:  C                                    By Donna R. Copeland