MLK Jr.’s impact on movies and music

Dr. Martin Luther King has had a great influence on our culture. This influence reaches both movies and music. Whether the stories told through these mediums are about King directly or about his message and aspirations, his influence is heard loud and clear.

According to an article published on, songs like U2’s 1984 “MLK,” King Dream Chorus and Holiday Crew’s 1986 “King Holiday,” and Common and’s 2006 “I Have A Dream” all serve to simply honor King and his message.

“Happy Birthday” recorded by Stevie Wonder in 1981 uses King’s legacy to advocate for a national holiday for King, and Public Enemy’s “By Time I Get To Arizona” in 1991 criticizes Arizona officials for rejecting the federal holiday honoring Martin Luther King.

Queen’s 1985 “One Vision” and Bruce Springsteen’s 2006 “We Shall Overcome” use King’s message to highlight current injustices and advocate for equality.

There are many documentaries following pivotal moments of the civil rights movement. Freedom on My Mind (1994) follows the story of college students during the 1964 “Freedom Summer,” banding together in the south in the hopes of gaining the right to vote.

These students would eventually become the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. The film uses a combination of footage from the 1960s and current day interviews with activists. It was nominated for an Academy Award.

4 Little Girls, a 1997 Academy Award-nominated documentary, covers a topic close to home. Spike Lee directed this documentary so that it would put the viewers in the mindset of early 1960s Birmingham and the turmoil it was in.

It then details the 1963 bombing on the 16th Street Baptist Church, which killed four black girls and injured over 20 others. Information on these films can be found in an article on

An article on shows that other documentaries focus directly on Martin Luther King Jr. In Remembrance of Martin (1986), features footage of King, as well as interviews from Jimmy Carter, Coretta Scott King, Rosa Parks and several others giving personal accounts and memories of Martin Luther King Jr.

The March (2013) is a documentary narrated by Denzel Washington about Dr. King and the infamous march in 1963 for jobs and equality in Washington, D.C. King: A Man Of Peace In A Time Of War (2007) has a TV interview with King in addition to interviews with others. This documentary focuses more on King’s personality and life than anything.

Recently, the film Selma has been released chronicling King’s march from  Selma to Montgomery.

According to, the movie has positive reviews and was nominated for an Oscar for Best Picture and received the award for Best Original Song “Glory” written by Common and John Legend. David Oyelowo, who acts as Martin Luther King and the other members of the cast have been heralded
for great performances.

However, the film has been criticized for “glossing over” or incorrectly depicting historical happenings for the sake of drama.

People were particularly upset about the depiction of President Johnson as an opposition to King when in reality he worked hard for the civil rights act and worked closely with Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. Martin Luther King has been an inspiration for all of these works and so many more. His message and legacy will continue to be an inspiration for our culture, and we will be certain to see and hear these works for years to come.

Destiny Cash
Special to The Chanticleer

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