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The New York Film Festival concluded several weeks ago; the much-anticipated Presidential debates came and went. Today we face the outcome of an existential election, and I find myself still thinking about three exceptional films at NYFF 58, two documentaries and one drama, that throw certain features of our national political crisis into sharp relief, intentionally or not, as only great films can do.

The documentary MLK/FBI , from accomplished director/producer/editor Sam Pollard, revisits the final decade in the life of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., ending with his assassination in 1968, a period during which our tax dollars underwrote a campaign to track, surveil, profile, wiretap, blackmail, and slander him. Today we honor this great American as a prophet of peace, a civil rights hero, a Nobel Peace Prize winner for whom we celebrate a national holiday, yet scarcely two days after his famous “I Have A Dream” speech at the 1963 March on Washington, an FBI internal memorandum described King as “the most dangerous Negro of the future in this Nation from the standpoint of communism, the Negro and national security.”

Dr. King was not alone in being spied upon by the FBI. By the early 1960s, warrantless FBI surveillances and black-bag jobs had amassed a trove of “subversive” files on over 432,000 Americans including Supreme Court justices, movie stars, philanthropists, even a first lady (all available in the National Archives). This was the bounty of a crusade begun in 1950 by Senator Joseph McCarthy, his chief legal […]