By Martin Smith | 10 September 2014
Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent.
For those who ask the question, “Aren’t you a civil rights leader?” and thereby mean to exclude me from the movement for peace, I have this further answer. In 1957 when a group of us formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, we chose as our motto: “To save the soul of America.” We were convinced that we could not limit our vision to certain rights for black people, but instead affirmed the conviction that America would never be free or saved from itself unless the descendants of its slaves were loosed completely from the shackles they still wear. In a way we were agreeing with Langston Hughes, that black bard of Harlem, who had written earlier:
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath–
America will be!
These are the words of Martin Luther King, in his last ever speech (4 April 1967), A Time to Break Silence: Why I oppose the war in Vietnam. It is one of his greatest and most important speeches.
He first spoke out against the war in 1965. His public opposition to the war was made against the wishes of the leadership of the Civil Rights Movement, and both the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and Ralph Bunche accused King of linking two disparate issues, Vietnam and civil rights. King’s speech in New York’s Riverside Church was his powerful and uncompromising response.
Edgar Arceneaux has used King’s speech as the main backdrop to his new film, A Time to Break the Silence. Well what links King’s anti Vietnam war speech, Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and Detroit’s most militant Techno crew Underground Resistance?
The film intersperses scenes from Kubrick’s masterpiece with a reconstruct of King’s speech made in a ruined Detroit church. Using the structure of a Catholic service, the music of Underground Resistance breaks in at exactly the same points that choral music does during a traditional Christmas mass.
Underground Resistance is a musical Techno collective based in Detroit. For over 25 years they have been producing uncompromising music geared toward promoting awareness and facilitating political change. The collective rejected commercialisation, the DJs did not identify themselves and performed hiding their faces behind bandanas.
Edgar Arcenaux explained in one interview how why the different elements mix:
The two disparate events are intimately intertwined. Arcenaux’s creative practice turns on the points of contact shared by seemingly unconnected events tangled; so the civil rights movement and labour rights that dominated MLK’s life are inextricably associated with artificial intelligence and its capacity for violence and social advancement, as put forward by Kubrick’s cinematic opus.
Arcenaux by bringing together bringing together the old and the new and this fusion of politics, music and film, is very rewarding and it makes you think about all three segments in different ways – Underground Resistance music compliments King’s speech perfectly – however I do feel the Kubrick sections feel a bit clunky.
This isn’t just a film commenting on 1967. The war against war and poverty is as relevant today as it was then.
This is an independent film – if you get a chance go and seen it.