“They refused to let tragedy defeat them!” -Ruby Dee
Legendary actress and civil rights activist, Ruby Dee, provided beautiful narration for Lifetime’s movie, Betty and Coretta. The wives of late Civil Rights leaders, Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. joined forces after their husbands were assassinated in the 1960s. In alignment with Black History Month, the movie has perfect timing. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X are easily associated with coining and strengthening the Civil Rights Movement.
Dr. Betty Shabazz (Mary J. Blige) was left with 6 girls after her husband was assassinated in 1965. Many speculations were made surrounding Malcolm X’s murder, but Dr. Shabazz focused on her small tribe of girls and furthering her education. She received her doctorate degree and began working as a professor at Medgar Evers College. In 1997, after 23 days in the hospital, Dr. Shabazz died from burn complications of a house fire that was set by her grandson, Malcolm Shabazz.
Only three years after Malcolm X’s assassination, Coretta Scott King (Angela Bassett) became a widow too when Nobel Peace Prize winner, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot on a Memphis hotel balcony. Both Betty and Coretta were determined to carry on their husbands’ legacies through service, hard work, and campaigning. Coretta fought the nasty allegations that surfaced from the FBI’s surveillance and wire tapping of Dr. King and petitioned for the government to make Dr. King’s birthday a national holiday. While, Dr. Shabazz tried to change the minds of people who believed her Malcolm X was a traitor or trouble maker.
Coretta Scott King passed on January 30, 2006 after respiratory failure due to complications from ovarian cancer. Both women rest peacefully next to their husbands.
Mary J. Blige and Angela Bassett didn’t quite win me over as Betty and Coretta, but there were hesitantly believable moments. I have never been a fan of Mary J. Blige as a actress or dancer, but Betty and Coretta might be her best work. On the other hand, I am positively an Angela Bassett fan. She’s always plays the more serious roles, and Ms. Bassett is known for playing non-fictional people. Ironnically, she’s played Dr. Betty Shabazz twice, once in Spike Lee’s Malcolm X (1992) and then on a smaller scale in 1995’s Panther. Bassett has also played Rosa Parks, Michael Jackson’s mommy, Catherine, and Notorious BIG’s mother, Voletta Wallace.
Malik Yoba had a shocking resemblance to Dr. King. I was pleasantly surprised by his presence. Yoba has kept a relatively low profile since his hit Fox sitcom, New York Undercover. But, he was handsome, brilliant, and captivating.
According to a February 1, 2003 Washington Post article, Malcolm X’s third daughter, Ilyasah Shabazz, and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s daughter, Rev. Bernice King spoke out about the imprecisions in the biographical film. Both daughters wish the women TV network would have consulted all of the children before filming. Shabazz’s cited her mother’s portrayal as the biggest inaccuracy, claiming the movie is ”fiction.”
The reality is that the movie, accurate or not, made viewers ponder on the already established legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. More importantly, it made us focus on two widows who for so long stood behind shadows. Admittedly, I never knew how many times Malcolm X was shot (21 times), that the FBI tried to incriminate Martin Luther King, Jr. with surveillance, and specific details of Dr. Betty Shabazz’s death. Of course, I was aware of the historical events, but the movie prompted me to do more research.
3 Stars: It is difficult to produce a made for TV movie, it’s even more difficult to convey a true story. Similar to VH1 and TLC, the Lifetime Network created a movie that was based off of facts and perceptions. Ultimately, the movie played the best role by being both informative and entertaining.
Civil Rights Widows
From left to right, Dr. Betty Shabazz, the late wife of Malcolm X, Coretta Scott King, the late wife of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Myrlie Evers-Williams, the wife of the late Medgar Evers