Martin Luther King, Jr Day is Monday, so Indiewire’s curation of Hulu’s Documentaries page offers the story of his assassination, a number of profiles of African-American activists, personalities, and communities, and a portrait of South Africa’s symbol of resistance against institutionalized racism.
Stephen Ives’ “Roads to Memphis,” which screened as part of PBS’ “American Experience,” recounts how both MLK Jr and his assassin, James Earl Ray, came to Memphis on the fateful day of April 4, 1968 that claimed the influential African-American activist’s life. Individuals who were part of King’s inner circle reflect on their friend and ally and on his work to bring true equality to all Americans.
David Petersen’s moving “Let the Church Say Amen,” which premiered at Sundance, puts the spotlight on World Missions for Christ Church, a Washington, DC house of worship whose parishioners are largely poor African-Americans. The film explores the positive impact that their participation in the church has on their lives and on their sense of community.
Washington, DC is also the backdrop for Michael Patrei’s inspirational “Ballou.” Ballou Senior High School is one of the worst in the country, but band leader Darrel Watson is determined that his students will succeed. He uses the power of music to push the young African American musicians in his charge to do their best, both academically and musically, preparing them not only for the National High Stepping Marching Band Competition in Birmingham AL, but for graduation and beyond.
Staying in the nation’s capital, Loren Mendell’s “Adjust Your Color: The Truth of Petey Greene,” which premiered at Slamdance, focuses on the outspoken radio and TV personality and community activist. Despite a background that involved drugs and crime, Greene persevered, beginning a career in the media in the late 1960s that lasted until his death in the early 1980s. After King’s assassination, his on-air comments were viewed as instrumental in calming down rioters in the DC metro area.
Aaron Matthews’ “A Panther in Africa” tells the story of Black Panther Pete O’Neal, who fled a criminal charge in Kansas City, MO to seek sanctuary in Tanzania – where he has lived ever since, caught between a radical past and the community organizing he has been a part of since leaving the US. In contrast to MLK Jr’s pleas for non-violence, O’Neal’s background reflects a 1960s militant African American experience, willing to take up arms against what the Black Panthers viewed as a racist government at war with their own people.
Further down the African continent from O’Neal’s home-in-exile is the setting of “Madiba: The Life and Times of Nelson Mandela,” an exploration of the charismatic anti-apartheid leader who traded a jail cell for the presidency of South Africa. Like MLK Jr, Mandela and the ANC led the charge to end a system of racism and bring equality to his people. His steadfast commitment to the possibilities of change, despite nearly 30 years in prison, make him an enduring symbol of resistance for any people seeking self-determination.
EDITOR’S NOTE: “Indiewire @ Hulu Docs” is a regular column spotlighting the Iw-curated selections on Hulu’s Documentaries page, a unique collaboration between the two sites. Indiewire selections typically appear in the carousel at the top of the page and under “Featured Content” in the center. Be sure to check out the great non-fiction projects available to watch free of charge. Disclosure: Some of the selections are titles provided to Hulu by SnagFilms, the parent company of Indiewire.
ABOUT THE WRITER: Basil Tsiokos is a Programming Associate, Documentary Features for Sundance and a consultant to documentary filmmakers and festivals. Follow him on Twitter (@1basil1) and visit his blog (what (not) to doc).