10 Movies And Documentaries To Watch This MLK Day


(Photo by Stephen F. Somerstein/Getty Images)

The contributions of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. can’t be defined by just one single moment in time. On the contrary, his fulfillment of purpose was a culmination of events before, during, and after his time here on earth. Known for his non-violent approach to social justice, King Jr. was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for Non-Violence in 1964. He was assassinated four years later.

This MLK Day is a great time to remember Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy while being intentional about learning more. When seeking to gain a comprehensive understanding of aspects of history, it is important to examine narratives, documents, films, and documentaries that are committed to truth. But, in the search for truth, it’s always important to consider context. The selection of movies and documentaries chosen show the spectrum of people, places, and events that contributed to the making of an American trailblazer and one of the most prominent figures in the fight for social justice.

Documentaries like Betty to Coretta and Four Died Trying gift viewers with perspectives on Martin Luther King Jr. that confirm the reality that the fight for civil rights was a group effort. The first-hand account interviews in I Am Not Your Negro and The League both show that artists, writers, and athletes also used their privilege and access to fight for civil liberties as well.

I AM MLK JR (2018)

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Directed by Michael Hamilton and John Barbisan, I AM MLK JR centers on the life and legacy of Civil Rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The film showcases up-close and personal, first-hand accounts of Dr. King, spanning the spectrum of the beginning of his legacy which includes moments of hardship and joy, and spans throughout his civil rights journey. I AM MLK JR. was filmed in many of the very locations where Dr. King preached and orated, and features many diverse voices and figures ranging from civil rights activists to writers, activists, and celebrities.

Watch it now on Amazon Prime or the CW.

Four Died Trying (2023)

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Four Died Trying has been the #1 release on Apple TV since its premiere on November 22nd, and the documentary series will soon premiere on Amazon Prime. It’s an innovative, investigative series that examines the lives and assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, John F. Kennedy, and Robert F. Kennedy. What originally began as a feature film project, soon morphed into a much larger undertaking as a result of garnering more than 120 original interviews and more evidence than anticipated about the lives of these activists emerging. According to the release, award-winning duo Producer Libby Handros and Director John Kirby with this documentary “Everything we thought we knew about modern American history is about to change.” In Season 1 of this series, Dr. King is highlighted “..not only through footage of never-before-released segments of speeches and personal moments in his life, but his connection with the other leaders.”

Watch it now on Apple TV and Amazon Prime.

Black America Since MLK: And Still I Rise (2016)

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In this series, Black America Since MLK: And Still I Rise, Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. takes viewers through the past 50 years of Black history. Season 1, episode 1 features the role that MLK played in American history and highlights the Selma marches and Watts riots.

Watch it now on Amazon Prime or PBS Documentaries.

Black History Activators (2020)

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Black History Activators shares educational information about events and people who were influential in shaping Black history. This documentary doesn’t just center on the Civil Rights movement but rather showcases a spectrum of culminating moments that comprise aspects of Black history. From Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I A Woman?” to featuring events like the Loving V. Virginia case.

Watch it now on Amazon Prime.

I Am Not Your Negro (2017)

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I AM Not Your Negro is a raw and unapologetic exploration of race and racial constructs in America. Directed by Raoul Peck, this documentary gives a glimpse into the work of James Baldwin, through the lens of examining the contributions and assassinations of activists: Martin Luther King Jr., Medgar Evers, and Malcolm X. All of whom, were personal friends of Baldwin. 

Watch it now on Amazon Prime.

Selma (2015)

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Directed by Ava Duvernay, Selma chronicles the historic march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965. Starring David Oleyewo and Oprah Winfrey, it highlights Martin Luther King Jr.’s role in this defining moment in America’s history. Selma was nominated for a Golden Globe award for Best Motion Picture for Drama, Duvernay was nominated for Best Director, and John Legend and Common won an Oscar for their song “Glory”.

Watch Selma now on Amazon Prime.

The League (2023)

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Under the direction of Sam Pollard (MLK/FBI) and executive produced by “Questlove”, The League shares the legacy of the Negro Baseball League, using archival footage and candid interviews, highlighting the baseball entrepreneurs and Black athletes “who were the movement before the Civil Rights Movement”. The League is a great documentary to watch for sports lovers and history buffs, as it highlights baseball’s untold history, about figures such as the female sports executive Effa Manley who was coined “the first lady of Black baseball”, Hall of Famers Willie Mays and Hank Aaron, and athletes like Rube Foster, who had a major impact on how baseball was played, among many others.

Watch it now on Amazon Prime.

Genius: MLK/X (2024)

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National Geographic’s Genius: MLK/X premieres on February 1, 2024, and two episodes will premiere weekly. In this 8-part docu-drama, the philosophies of MLK Jr. and Malcolm X are explored, as well as their accomplishments, and influence on the Civil Rights movement. The series also shares the impact that the wives of these powerful men, Coretta Scott King and Betty Shabazz, had on their husbands as well as the Civil Rights movement as well.

Watch it now on National Geographic, Hulu, and Disney+.

Betty & Coretta (2013)

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There’s a cliche that states, “Behind every successful man, there is a strong woman”. But, in the film Betty and Coretta, it is evident that besides every man, there is a strong woman. Starring Angela Bassett as Coretta Scott King and Mary J. Blige as Betty Shabazz, shows the lives of the wives who were left behind in the wake of their husbands’ assassinations. Under the direction of Yves Simoneau Betty and Coretta is a worthy watch, because it doesn’t portray the widows of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X as women who folded under the pressure of their husbands’ legacies, but rather gives a glimpse of their inner strength, beauty and dignity.

Watch it now on Amazon Prime.

Four Little Girls (1997)

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Under the direction of Spike Lee, Four Little Girls examines a very dark time in America’s history, during the 1960s. A time when lives were not safe, even at church. The documentary Four Little Girls examines the bombing of a church in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963 that killed four little girls. Birmingham, Alabama was coined “Bombingham” due to more than 50 racially-motivated bombings happening between 1945 and 1962. But, when Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley, and Denise McNair were killed in 1963, it shook the entire nation. This horrific attack was one of the major events that helped to pass the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Watch it now on Amazon Prime.


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