Movies for Martin Luther King Jr. Day

If there’s anyone in American history worthy of celebrating, it’s the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. And so, come next Monday, we’ll celebrate him by going shopping on a day where we’d usually go to work or school. After all, it’s too cold and wet for barbeque.

Not really the best way to honor such a man.

Throughout 2019, I’ll be writing articles about holidays and the most appropriate movies to watch on or before those days.

Of course, watching a movie isn’t the best way to celebrate King. We should really be out on the street, protesting all the horrible things going on right now. Or perhaps volunteering at a food bank.

But this is a film blog, so here are three movies that can remind you about what King fought for and how he non-violently fought.


I found it difficult at first to accept David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King and Tom Wilkinson as LBJ. They didn’t look or sound right (they’re both British). But as the film progressed, I accepted them and got lost in the powerful and (unfortunately) still timely story. I had no problem accepting Carmen Ejogo’s spot-on perfect performance as Coretta Scott King. The film’s biggest strength comes from its picture of King as a flawed human being filled with doubts, exhaustion, and guilt–a man who would lie to his wife, badly, about his infidelities–but who is also a great hero. The film’s biggest mistake was letting us meet this real person before showing us the great orator that is his public image.

I Am Not Your Negro

Unlike Selma, this film isn’t about King, but it comes very much from the words of James Baldwin, who played a major part in the Civil Rights struggle. This documentary sums up the African-American experience through Baldwin’s words, read by Samuel L. Jackson (their voices do not sound alike, but that really isn’t important). Director Raoul Peck provides visual context from old news footage, talk shows, and scenes shot for this film. Every American should see I Am Not Your Negro. Unfortunately, only those already sympathetic to its message will likely catch it. Read my full review.


I know there’s some controversy recently about the young Mohandas Gandi’s racist views towards black Africans. But he outgrew those attitudes, and eventually predicted, correctly, that African Americans would be the next people to gain their freedom through non-violent disobedience. King spoke and wrote often about Gandhi’s influence. Yes, Richard Attenborough’s film ignores the man’s flaws, but it also describes the general arc of his life in an entertaining way (with factual liberties, of course), and effectively dramatizes his revolutionary techniques of non-violent resistance.

There’s another reason to pick Gandhi to watch on MLK Day: A big, wide, 191-minute movie, shot largely in bright sunlight, can be a great way to spend a cold, wet day off work.