By Ryan Velez
Posted September 2nd 2018
(PHOTO: DAWN PORTER FILMAKER)
Since his untimely assassination in 1968, Robert F. Kennedy has been seen as one of the rare figures in politics who managed to bring together a diverse coalition of voters, but notably, he underwent a transformation from being suspicious of those in the Civil Rights Movement to one of its biggest supporters. This transformation is something filmmaker Dawn Porter covered in her recent Netflix project, Bobby Kennedy For President. Essence recently sat down with Porter to talk about the series and Kennedy himself.
“He’s a really fascinating historical figure,” Porter tells Essence. “I’ve always been interested in politics. Career-wise, a lot of my films deal with social justice, and I felt like this one dealt with social justice from a different perspective.” The four-part documentary series uses archival footage as well as interviews with people like Harry Belafonte, activist Dolores Huerta, and Congressman John Lewis to show Kennedy’s rise and what made him so beloved. Porter notes that his widespread influence on many black politicians prompted her to take a closer look at his life.
“In our initial research into the story, when I saw what a difference civil rights leaders made in his life, it meant that made a difference in all of our lives and I wanted to add in their voices to this history,” she says. “He’s a very compelling figure and it was just a rich opportunity to dig into the archives as a filmmaker, but to also tell the story through a different lens.” Some people see his life as a future ideal to aim for, but according to Porter, there are also essential lessons now that we can learn from.
“We’re awfully quick these days to label people and keep them in a box and I think that that doesn’t serve any of us well,” Porter explains. “All of us are complicated, but if we’re smart and mature we all evolve. I think what you see with Bobby Kennedy is his evolution, but you have to understand the beginning to deeply appreciate the end.” This references his time at the Justice Department, where he authorized surveillance of civil rights figures like Martin Luther King, Jr.
“I appreciated the end so much when I understood that history,” Porter says. “The fact that the man who authorized the wiretap of Martin Luther King, Jr. would then break Cesar Chavez’s fast, would march with Dolores Huerta during the grape strikes and would announce Martin Luther King’s death to a largely Black audience in Indianapolis. Those are seminal moments in our history, but I think they’re made even richer and deeper and more meaningful because that’s not where he began.”
Check out ‘Bobby Kennedy For President’ now on netflix here.