As we approach MLK Day this week, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s legacy and achievements will be fondly remembered and shared in classrooms across the nation. And just like other historical figures, Dr. King has been given the Hollywood treatment many times over the years, as he has been portrayed in countless films, television shows, and documentaries. But given the variety of options, how do you pick the best clips to represent Dr. King to your students?
A good place to start may be the most recent biopic of him, Selma. It was released in 2014 to critical acclaim and even nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. While many films about historical figures focus on their entire lives, Selma instead focuses on just one phase of Martin Luther King’s life. After successfully getting Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and winning the Nobel Peace Prize, Dr. King had already cemented an incredible legacy. But problems still existed, as African Americans could not vote in many places in the South. So Dr. King planned a march from Selma, Alabama to the state capital of Montgomery to raise awareness and push for Congress to pass an act on voting rights. Among the notable events the film portrays is the Bloody Sunday March, Turnaround Tuesday, and King’s Speech at the State House Steps. Showing scenes from this film will present key facts about Dr. King to your students, without feeling too fact-heavy. Watching scenes from Selma can also help your students connect more to Dr. King, as they’ll see him as not just a figure in the history books, but a real person who struggles with his own problems. A great scene that represents this in Selma is the Jail Scene, where King expresses his frustrations at the slowness of change.
Perhaps you don’t want to just show a movie clip of an actor portraying Martin Luther King, but rather show your students the actual man? Well, unlike some older historical figures, King was active in the time of Television. There are hours of footage of Dr. King talking at various times in his life. But this can lead to problems for finding the best clips to represent him. Picking a clip from a documentary that’s already searched for these best representations of him can be a great help. One good example is from the Sixties documentary series, where an episode focused on Dr. King and other civil rights protestors during the decade. This clip shows not only students participating in peaceful sit-ins, but also Dr. King debating on their behalf on TV.
Of course, if you’re teaching your students about Dr. King, his most famous speech should be one of your first choices. In Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech during the March on Washington in 1963, Dr. King talks about his dreams of racial harmony in the future. A lot of students may not know about the backstory of that speech, which is why you may want to show them this clip to give them some background information. If you want your students to get a lot of background on Dr. King, a great clip to watch is this short biography of his life.
Overall, there are thousands of videos you can present to your classroom on what a revolution figure Dr. King was, but these clips are a good place to start. Want more clips on Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights movement? Check out these clips from ClassHook’s video library, which has educational scenes from popular media on a variety of subjects.