29 Days of Black History – Day 15: Betty & Coretta

Release Date:  2/2/13; Lifetime
Genre:  Drama/Biography
Rating:  TV-14
Director:  Yves Simoneau
Studio(s):  Sanitsky Company, Lifetime Movie Network
Running Time:  88 mins.

Cast:  Mary J. Blige (Dr. Betty Shabazz), Angela Bassett (Coretta Scott King), Ruby Dee (Narrator), Gloria Reuben (Myrlie Evers-Williams), Malik Yoba (Martin Luther King, Jr.), Tyler Hynes (Mike Fitzpatrick), Benz Antoine (Ralph Abernathy), Cherise Boothe (Toni Wallace), Nicki Whitely (Attalah), Tristan D. Lalla (Jesse), Lindsay Owen Pierre (Malcolm X), Alex C. Askew (Louis Farrakhan).

Story Focusing on the extraordinary women behind the two men who would change history, Betty & Coretta tells the stories of Coretta Scott King, wife of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Dr. Betty Shabazz, wife of Malcolm X.  When their husbands are tragically assassinated, these two women not only inherit the mantle of the civil rights movement in America, but also find themselves single mothers who have to find a way to raise and support their children on their own.  While many are familiar with the stories of Malcolm X and MLK, few know the stories of their devoted wives and the friendship that formed between the women after the assassinations of their husbands.

The movie picks up right before the assassinations of Malcolm (February 21, 1965) and Martin (April 4, 1968), and opens with Ruby Dee describing an era of racism, war, and poverty in America. Throughout the film Dee shares facts about the deaths of Dr. King and Malcolm X, the Black National Political Convention, where Coretta and Betty first meet, as well as the lives and deaths of both phenomenal women.

Mary J. Blige portrays a pregnant Betty Shabazz, who along with her four daughters watches as her husband is gunned down just as he takes the stage to deliver what would become his last message. After the assassination, Betty delivered twin girls, making her a single mother with six small children. With the help of friends and those in her community, Betty cared for her family and earned a doctorate degree in high-education administration. She became an associate professor at New York’s Medgar Evers College. Shabazz spent the rest of her life working as a university administrator and fundraiser, before dying on June 23, 1997 as a result of injuries sustained by a fire her 10-year-old grandson, Malcolm set in her home.

Angela Bassett plays widow, Coretta Scott King, who raises four children while remaining a leading participant in the Civil Rights Movement. She goes from being her husband’s motivator and partner in the movement to being a justice advocate to the world. In addition to lobbying for the national King Holiday, she became president, chair, and CEO of The King Center in Atlanta, GA. At the end of the movie, Ruby Dee notes that Mrs. King died in 2006, nine years after Dr. Shabazz, from ovarian cancer.

The movie spans three decades and weaves together the lives of these two civil rights activists.  It demonstrates how they were each powerful, strong, faithful, and devoted leaders in their own rights.

Details:  A corporate executive at A&E Network confirmed that the Shabazz and King families were not consulted for the film and some of the heirs were not happy with it.  Lifetime attempted to add credibility by featuring actress, Ruby Dee, as narrator, who was a dear friend of the Shabazz family.  Sources: Lifetime; Urban Faith; Essence; Commonsense.org; Variety; Shadow & Act; Moviestillsdb.com.

Trailer: