Kunhardt's documentary now playing on HBO, 50 years after Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination
The gloss of time has provided the American people with a comforting amnesia about its relationship with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. At the time of his assassination 50 years ago (April 4, 1968) King was the most hated man in the nation, a status ordained by America's foundational racism as well as the concerted efforts by the FBI to antagonize and discredit him.
Americans of today conveniently forget this truth and most see the reverence for Rev. King to be part of the natural order, a divine sanctification of a figure who was always respected and admired. This distorts not only how controversial King was during his time, but later how recalcitrant the opposition was to celebrating his birthday as a national holiday (it only became law in 1983).
...The nightmare lasted three years, until his assassination.
But even among longstanding admirers of King there is a kind of amnesia about him. They little realize how difficult his final years were as he tried to maintain consensus on the wisdom of a nonviolent approach to combating racism. Just as challenging for King was his effort to build on his program of civil and human rights to confront poverty and inequality as a class issue, and to fight against the Vietnam War.
King in the Wilderness, the new documentary from Peter Kunhardt, movingly portrays the pain and turbulence of the last years of King's life before the assassin's bullet ended his earthly crusade. It is now playing on HBO (next airing Saturday, April 7 at 2pm and available for streaming on HBO Go and through HBO Now). The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival where Kunhardt gave us a brief sketch of the film's themes and King's struggles.
Matthew Carey is a documentary filmmaker and journalist. His work has appeared on Deadline.com, CNN, CNN.com, TheWrap.com, NBCNews.com and in Documentary magazine.