The 11th Edition of the Montreal International Black Film Festival [Sept. 29-Oct. 4, 2015] has chosen Martin Luther King III as recipient of the 2015 Humanitarian Award. This is a fitting tribute to the son of the man who led the march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965. It is no coincidence that Harry Belafonte, first recipient of this award in 2012, (www.montrealserai.com/2012/9/21) walked side by side with Martin Luther King Jr during that historical march. The world of social activism is a small one peopled by big hearts. MLK, as he is affectionately known, was still a child, and might not have understood then as he does now the momentous impact of his father’s footsteps. He has been known to say that he did not have the privilege of spending much time with his father but understood the importance of his father’s commitment to a cause that benefitted so many.
The press conference room is surprisingly not crowded, perhaps because most of the press is saving its energy for the evening screening of Sweet Micky for President, the inaugural film during which Martin Luther King III will receive his well deserved plaudit. MLK is forty minutes late but journalists wait patiently, knowing that their patience will be rewarded. There is a hushed silence when Fabienne Colas enters arm in arm with Martin Luther King III.
Madame Colas, founder and president of the festival, introduces MLK and reminds us that the mission of the Montreal International Black Film Festival is not just to entertain, but to inspire, to educate and to raise people’s consciousness. She also points out that this year’s festival is the proper forum to recognize the work of MLK, since it is the 50th anniversary of Rosa Parks’ defiance in Montgomery, the assassination of Malcolm X and, of course, the march from Selma to Montgomery.
Colas introduces MLK as the carrier of his father’s torch, a social and political leader, and somebody who makes things move. He is all that, but to those in his presence, he is an unassuming man with a gentle demeanour that cannot hide his firm convictions. He thanks Madame Colas for having founded such an important institution, and appears to be a bit uncomfortable with so much praise. He reveals that he’s not used to so much media coverage in the United States.
His first words are reserved for Pope Francis’ visit to the United States and the UN. In MLK’s view, Pope Francis personifies a light that he hopes will shine on the 150 heads of states, spurring them to engage in making the world a better place.
He also speaks at some length about police brutality in the United States, which in his opinion is no worse than in the past but is now better covered by modern media. He particularly praises the bereaved families who choose to not engage in violence. His advice for today’s activists is that they should not limit themselves to words or marches, but should plan strategically on all fronts, including those of changing legislation and forming political alliances.
In response to this author’s question about how Islamophobia has affected the black community in his country, MLK answers that there’s a segment of the black population that is Moslem, and they are subject to racist and religious baiting. Republican presidential candidates are taking advantage of this kind of divisiveness, painting Moslems as terrorists or criminal elements. He counters with the reminder that crimes like the Oklahoma bombing were committed by so-called Christians.
MLK ends on an encouraging note, adding, “But you guys here in Montreal have got it all together!”