The two hour long movie follows the complex relationship of President Lyndon B. Johnson, played by Bryan Cranston, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., played by Anthony Mackie. This riveting historical film is packed with emotional scenes of racial tension, political maneuvers, compromises, as well as the flaws and vulnerability of America’s great leaders.
“All The Way,” which was LBJ’s 1964 campaign slogan, commenced when he took office after the assassination of then-president John F. Kennedy in 1963. Immediately, LBJ, a Stonewall, Texas native, put the Civil Rights Act of 1964 at the forefront of his political agenda as MLK rallied Blacks to support Lyndon’s campaign.
Johnson, being a Texas native, rose to power with the help of Dixiecrats. Lead by Senator Richard Russell, played by Frank Langella in the film, southern democrats expected LBJ to stay loyal to the Democratic Party by keeping the South segregated. But, LBJ was intent on getting the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed, which he eventually did.
All The Way will captivate movie-watchers as LBJ uses clever and, at times, misleading rhetoric to satisfy Russell until the Civil Rights Act is passed. This in turn damaged his relationship with the Dixiecrats for the betterment of America.
“You’ve got this white southerner, who has struggled with his own conscience, knowing he’s going to give away the south to right-wing and reactionary forces for a foreseeable future, at least a couple generations,” said host Michael Eric Dyson at last night’s (May 17th) panel and private screening of All The Way, in New York City.
Dyson continued by saying: “All The Way shows LBJ as a man of heroism, even as he’s pitted against all of his neighbors, and let’s be honest, his kinfolks who argue for a different direction.”
The movie also does an excellent job at showing the questionable relationships between LBJ and MLK. King understands that some politicians only appeal to minorities to win the black vote. However, it seems as is MLK — albeit still skeptical — urges his advisors Stokely Carmichael (Mo McRae), Bob Moses (Marque Richards) and Ralph Abernathy (Dohn Norwood) to trust that LBJ is sincere in wanting to improve America by ending segregation.
Now, this is important because Johnson’s role in the Civil Rights Act has been questioned, as well as King’s role as to whether or not he was a reluctant follower of LBJ’s campaign.
The portrayal of LBJ in Ava DuVarnay’s 2014 film Selma upset some LBJ supporters. In Selma, LJB was depicted as a slacker on voting rights, and one who opposed civil rights marches. Here, in All The Way, he is depicted as more of a sagacious politician rather than being a foot-dragger on voting rights. It’s left up for the viewer to decided.
Roach also does a stellar job at humanizing MLK and LBJ. Throughout the movie King’s infidelities, and LBJ’s insecurities, and vulnerabilities are constantly shown. All The Way even goes so far as to show how the Mississippi Freedom Summer and Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, lead by civil rights activists Fannie Lou Hamer, played by Aisha Hinds, affected the former president’s campaign.
Also, viewers will see glimpses of the emergence of aggressive and younger Civil Rights leaders Bob Moses and Carmichael, who constantly disagree with an older and more conservative Roy Wilkins.
The mishaps are few. Viewers may not get the full scope as to why LBJ distrusted King, and encouraged then-FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, played by Stephen Root, to investigate King’s movement. According to some historians, two of King’s advisors, Stanley Levison and Jack O’Dell, were communists, and King’s validity and loyalty came under question during the Kennedy administration, where LBJ served as vice president.
Adding this piece of information would have added more intrigue and insight on why King and Johnson distrusted each other. Also, had All The Way touched on LBJ’s thoughts about MLK leading the March on Selma, something that has been made public, it would have given viewers another POV of LBJ and added more curiosity about important historical matters.
Still, All The Way is an excellent film that’s packed with political maneuvers, rich history, and great compromise, courage, and compassion.
It airs on HBO on May 21 at 8:00 P.M. ET.