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3 great movies you need to watch on Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Paramount Pictures

Three-day weekends are great, but Martin Luther King Jr. Day is foremost an important time to reflect on the legacy of the man the day is named after, and also on the complicated way the country related to him while he was alive. While several movies have been made about King’s life over the years, those movies are not uniformly excellent.

The movies on this list are among the best dramas and documentaries about King from recent years, and they’re also remarkably honest about the political climate that King was operating within. These are three movies that are perfect for MLK Day viewing.

Selma (2014)

Selma Official Trailer #1 (2015) - Oprah Winfrey, Cuba Gooding Jr. Movie HD

The best movies about real historical figures often choose to focus on just one narrow part of that person’s life. In Selma, we follow Martin Luther King Jr. as he and his allies prepare for the March on Selma in the aftermath of the passage of the Civil Rights Act. The brilliance of the movie comes in part from the fact that the Civil Rights Movement had already accomplished much of what it set out to do when Selma starts.

Boosted by a great central performance from Silo‘s David Oyelowo, it’s a bracing reminder of the level of violence and intimidation that the movement regularly dealt with.

Selma is streaming on Paramount+.

MLK/FBI (2021)

MLK/FBI - Official Trailer | HD | IFC Films

Although he’s universally beloved today, Martin Luther King Jr. wasn’t always celebrated for his accomplishments. MLK/FBI is a hugely important reminder that large parts of the country were against King when he was leading his movement. The movie centers on newly declassified FBI files that reveal the levels of harassment that J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI placed King under throughout his years of prominence.

The documentary is an important reminder that the FBI was not always the unambiguous force for good that many people have long believed it to be. In highlighting the way King was harassed and violated, the film gives us an unvarnished look at the way the country reacted to his attempts to change it for the better.

MLK/FBI is streaming on Hulu.

Judas and the Black Messiah (2021)


Although this film is not directly about King, Judas and the Black Messiah is another bracing movie that is designed to remind its audience about the often horrific role that the American government played in undermining the Civil Rights movement.

Telling the true story of a man who infiltrated the Black Panthers of Chicago on behalf of the FBI, and helped to facilitate the killing of many members of that movement by authorities, Judas and the Black Messiah is an emotional and thrilling movie that communicates to its audience with a kind of visceral force. It’s also a key reminder that racism is not a new problem in America.

Judas and the Black Messiah is streaming for free on Tubi. You can also stream it on Max.

Editors' Recommendations

Joe Allen
Joe Allen is a freelance writer based in upstate New York focused on movies and TV.
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