The Montreal International Black Film Festival’s 11th edition paid tribute to Martin Luther King III
Carrying on the family trade is challenging when your father changed the world. That’s the case for Martin Luther King III—Martin Luther King Jr.’s eldest son—whose father was a social activist, eloquent speaker and remarkable leader. In 2012, the Montreal International Black Film Festival created the Humanitarian Award, and this year—the festival’s 11th edition—King received it for his community activism, political leadership, and advocacy for equality and justice.
On Sept. 29 a press conference was held prior to the launch of the festival which held tribute to King and a screening of the festival’s first film, Sweet Micky for President. Applause echoed throughout the room as King entered with the president and founder of the festival Fabienne Colas.
King began by expressing what an honour it was for him to be there and to be chosen to receive the award. He then added his surprise at being welcomed with applause, a rarity at press conferences in the U.S. The conference covered a range of topics but with each of his answers, King proved that he had an abundance of wisdom to share and exemplified qualities that could make him a remarkable change-maker in our present day.
This year’s edition of the festival coincides with the 50th anniversary year of the march in Selma, Alabama, an event that was organized by King’s father and contributed to the creation of the Voting Rights Act. “While I can’t say I remember all of those details, as I go back and review from a historical perspective and [get] an understanding, more and more I appreciate what my father and his team were able to do and what the United States Congress was able to do, and the president at the time, President Johnson,” said King.
This led into his thoughts on present day issues of race and violence and whether or not there has been progress since the Selma march. The Charleston shooting was brought up and King said that the victims’ families’ responses were the catalyst for change. “They came in the spirit of forgiveness and love and said that hate is not going to win, love is going to win. And as a result, a tectonic shift occurred around the nation … All I’m saying is that although we’ve gone backward to some degree, we’re constantly making strides,” King said.
King provided insight on everything from Pope Francis’s recent visit to the U.S. to present-day Islamophobia. He also shared a glance at what it’s like to live with his father’s legacy. “I try not to look at it as a burden, but to look at it more as a blessing. Would I have loved to have had Dad home more? Absolutely. I mean, Dad did not spend a large quantity of time with us but it was the quality of time that was remarkable,” he said. “And at some point, I guess, I began to understand, and my siblings, that … he sort of belonged to the world. We would’ve liked to have had him more for us, but what he was doing was so, so important, in terms of bringing about social change in our nation and in our world.”
His respect and love for his father were evident, especially as he expressed the desire to live his own life with a similar approach. “I think we’ve got to find a way in the world to lift up the good, that is what [I always hope to] be able to do, to bring out the good,” he said. “My dad had a lot of people around who worked with him, and what he focused on was the good and extracting the good out of everyone. If you were hypothetically 90 per cent bad, he didn’t deal with the 90 per cent but he focused on the 10 per cent good and tried to extract the best to make all of us better.”
His passion for what could be his life’s work and the continuation of his father’s legacy really emerged when The Concordian sat down with King. The conversation included what his ultimate goals were, which he wanted to accomplish with the help of his father’s name. “My dad and mom basically talked about the eradication of what my father defined as the triple evils, and he defined them as the evil of poverty, the evil of racism and the evil of militarism and violence. So in a sense, if there was a way to minimize and reduce those triple evils I believe we would have a better world. That’s a life mission, it’s not a mission that will happen in a couple years,” said King.
His perception of the triple evils in today’s society include his belief that in the next 20 years strides can be made to eradicate poverty. Furthermore, although the issue of race is still real he thinks racism may ultimately resolve itself. He also sees a problem with society’s craving for violence and hopes that society can move away from that. If he is able to contribute to that shift—the move away from aggression—he said that he would be partially fulfilled in his calling.
King said that more generally in his life he first preferred to stay behind the scenes but was propelled to the forefront—or as Colas said during the press conference, he became “the one that is carrying the torch to keep the legacy of the King family alive.” Yet, although his father’s legendary status may often overshadow him, King—especially as the recipient of the Montreal Black Film Festival’s 2015 Humanitarian Award—shows himself to be an individual that stands on his own as a change-maker and leader. The King family has a clear place in history but it’s evident that they may very well write themselves into our future history books in a positive way as well.
For more coverage of the MIBFF visit theconcordian.com.