The stated premise of “MLK Boulevard,” a “documentary” film airing on the Discovery-Times Channel (formerly Discovery Civilization – it’s available on satellite and some digital cable outlets) is intriguing.
The film is positioned as an examination of the phenomenon of renaming streets across America after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. According to the film, King has more streets named after him than anyone in U.S. history except Washington and Lincoln.
Is the renaming of a street in honor of King a fitting tribute, or is it a meaningless gesture that does nothing to promote King’s vision and is just the default tribute required for all cities to pass NAACP muster?
This is supposed to be the question answered by “MLK Boulevard.” Instead, the filmmaker – a young black man from New York – uses his platform to push an agenda. That’s not surprising, as most leftist filmmakers use the “documentary” form as political platform, but it was very disappointing.
The filmmaker travels the country examining MLK Boulevards, pointing out poverty, asking strangers on the side of the road for directions to their MLK street (to show, I suppose, that if nobody can tell you how to get there, that’s a bad thing), and reducing what was a legitimate argument in Eugene, Oregon about a King renaming into a “white businesses verses black residents” struggle.
He travels to Cuba, Alabama to find an MLK street that is, as he points out in shame “only 1100 feet long”. He says Cuba is a very small town, but doesn’t feel the need to explain that the entire town in about 500 yards square. Cuba features streets named Outside Street, Railroad Avenue and a New York City-style grid of numbered streets and avenues. The entirely of Cuba exists between 1st and 4th Streets and 1st and 8th Avenues.
Part of MLK Street in Cuba is a dusty dirt road. He shows the road without comment, and then pulls up to a trailer in which he finds an poor, old black man. The filmmaker seems upset that a black man living on MLK Street would be living in such poverty. Nevermind that half of Alabama lives like that.
In St. Louis, he finds a Chinese restaurant on MLK Boulevard that has a bulletproof glass window through which they pass their food to customers. He seems really bothered about this.
And then there’s the Eugene debate that begins and ends the film. Black leaders in Eugene had chosen the city’s Centennial Parkway as the road to become MLK Boulevard. Many in Eugene did not approve, as Centennial Parkway was so named to celebrate the state’s centennial some years back.
The film maker shows the City Council meeting where the proposal was originally voted down. He shows a number of citizens speaking in favor of the proposal; and he shows council members giving their speeches. When the two council members who supported the change spoke, he cut away to reaction shots from the other council members. They winced; they frowned; they generally looked very unhappy.
Now, the tape of this City Council meeting was taken from the local public-access cable channel. Such low-budget, government-run productions typically do not cut away from a council person as they are speaking to show others’ reactions. I think the filmmaker – ala Michael Moore – assembled little bits and pieces of reactions (probably to unrelated things) and edited them together to create a certain impression of what happened. That’s all too typical in these “documentaries”.
And, when the council votes down the change – it’s ultimately approved – he notes that even though 28 people spoke in favor of the name change, “business interests” overrode the interests of the public. OK.
So, in the end, there is no productive discussion about whether naming a street after MLK does anything to honor his legacy. It’s another hour wasted on leftist propagandizing in the name of “documentary filmmaking.”