One year in elementary school, a classmate of mine brought in the VHS tape to a movie that he and his family watched each year on MLK Day—the film is titled Our Friend, Martin, and follows Miles, a young African American boy who has more concern for his future than the past, through time with Martin Luther King Jr. throughout various points in his life and activism, including the Birmingham riot of 1963, meetings regarding the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the bombing of King’s house, and ultimately, his assassination.
Miles traveling through time and getting a first-hand account of these events allows him to understand better how intrinsically connected the past and present are, even if an individual of the present feels the past has no bearing on their life. When the film opens, Miles’s mother says that she has to work late and she won’t be home when he gets home, to which he retorts that her company has her working “like a slave.” Perhaps because he is shown bullied in the opening scene, Miles exhibits a lot of this internalized racism: when his teacher, Miss Clark, approaches him about his poor grades, Miles says that his grades shouldn’t matter because when people are “living in color” their only shot at being successful comes in the form of professional athleticism. Witnessing King’s activism allows Miles to get a better understanding for the injustices that King fought against and how they affect his life, especially considering Miles had previously believed that King was “…famous for doing a bunch of good stuff for African Americans back in the day, and now we get his birthday off, right?”
Reflecting on this movie, I think that this was an important one to watch growing up. Not only does it present racism through the eyes of a child (i.e.: simplified, but still understandable) who doesn’t understand racism and how it’s systematic and is often passed down from generations, yet still finds it egregious. The juxtaposition between cartoon scenes and footage from riots and protests only heightens the sense of realism in the film.
The film reminds us that strides for equality can never be forgotten, taken for granted, or halted. Check it out below if you’re interested—along with strong content and a great message, the cast is amazing.