When you think of educational films that were released direct-to-video, there is only one that stands out — Our Friend, Martin. The film, which followed a young Black student as he time-traveled to different parts of Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and explored racism during the civil rights movement, is as unflinching as an animated, educational film could be. It also shows what life would be like now without the impact of MLK and the civil rights movement.
Here are five quick reasons why the film will always mean everything:
1. It had an all-star voice cast.
The voice cast for the film reads like a who’s who list of Hollywood stars, including Oprah Winfrey, Whoopi Goldberg, Angela Bassett, James Earl Jones, Samuel L. Jackson, Danny Glover, LeVar Burton, John Travolta, Susan Sarandon and Ashley Judd. Robert Ri’Chard voiced the main character, Miles Woodman.
2. It wasn’t afraid to go there.
Even as an educational, animated film, Our Friend, Martin didn’t shy away from the horrors of racism. One scene from the movie transports the kids to the Birmingham race riots where police officers released water guns and German shepherds on Black protesters. Another great part about the film was that it intertwined actual, historical footage of incidents.
3. The soundtrack slapped!
From “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” to iconic tracks from The Jackson 5, Marvin Gaye, Montell Jordan, Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder and Salt-N-Pepa, the music for this film was a masterful collection.
4. It was nominated for awards.
If you needed further proof of this film’s excellence, don’t forget that it was nominated for an Emmy Award in 1999 for Outstanding Animated Program (For Programming More Than One Hour).
5. It is still the only animated project on MLK.
We’ve seen many different portrayals of MLK’s story on screen, with the most notable perhaps being Ava DuVernay’s 2014 film, Selma. Twenty years after its release, Our Friend, Martin remains the only animated project about Dr. King.
You can watch Our Friend, Martin in full below: