Mary J. Blige and Angela Bassett star as “Betty & Coretta” in Lifetime’s original movie (Photo credit: Richard McLaren/Lifetime.com)
The old saying goes, “Behind every great man, there is a woman.” I have observed, however, that “beside every great man, there is a woman.” Such is the case with Civil Rights advocates, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. While many are familiar with their stories, few know the stories of their devoted wives Coretta Scott King and Dr. Betty Shabazz. More surprisingly the friendship that formed between these two women after the assassinations of their husbands is an untold story.
That is until Lifetime boldly presented this bond of sister and womanhood in the television world premiere of “Betty and Coretta” last weekend. A corporate executive at A&E Network did confirm that the Shabazz and King families were not consulted for the film, noting the temptation for family members to protect their legacies. Given the documented inward fighting between siblings in both families, viewers can understand (at least partially) the network’s decision. Some of the heirs are not happy with the flick.
Ilyasah Shabazz, third daughter of Malcolm X and Betty Shabazz and author of Growing Up X, called the film “inaccurate.” There are a few grievances raised: Contrary to Ilyasah’s statement, there are several pictures available online portraying Dr. Shabazz’s head covered with a scarf. Whether or not Dr. Shabazz spoke on her death bed is somewhat irrelevant. The point is Mrs. King did come to be at her friend, Betty’s side in the days leading up to her death. According to the children, moreover, there was a house visit portrayed in the movie which never really took place. Whenever a person’s life is brought to a film there is a certain level of embellishment that goes with the territory because producers are attempting to share a big story in a finite amount of time; smooth transitions are needed to move the story line forward and still capture the big picture. With the aforementioned reasons in mind, one can hardly call Lifetime’s portrayal a work of fiction.
Lifetime took great care adding credibility to the film by featuring actress, Ruby Dee, as narrator of the movie and dear friend of the Shabazz family. The movie picks up right before the assassinations of Malcolm (February 21, 1965) and Martin (April 4, 1968), and opened with Ruby Dee (who recently turned 90 years old) setting the stage for the times of racism, war, and poverty in America. Throughout the film she continues sharing facts about the deaths of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X, the Black National Political Convention (of 10,000 attendees where Coretta and Betty first met), the lobbying and six million signatures Mrs. King gathered to make Martin Luther King, Jr. a National Holiday, and she narrates all the way to the deaths of both phenomenal women.
The movie is not about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Malik Yoba), Malcolm X (Lindsay Owen Pierre), or their legacies per se. The movie is also not about the King and Shabazz children. The movie focuses on two women who were powerful, strong, faithful, and devoted leaders in their own rights. The film spans three decades and weaves the lives of these two civil rights activists and shares how they stood for justice.
A pregnant, Betty Shabazz (Mary J. Blige) and her four daughters watched her husband being gunned down as he took the stage to deliver what became his last message. After Malcolm X’s assassination, Betty delivered twin girls, which made 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 from the University of Massachusetts. She became an associate professor of health sciences at New York’s Medgar Evers College. She spent the rest of her life working as an university administrator and fundraiser, before she died on June 23, 1997 as a result of injuries sustained by a fire her 10-year-old grandson, Malcolm set in her home.
As a widow, Coretta Scott King (Angela Bassett) raised four children while remaining a leading participant in the Civil Rights Movement. She went 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 (first celebrated in January 1986), she became president, chair, and Chief Executive Officer 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.
Lifetime briefly mentioned the retreat at the end of the movie (hence the purpose of the Betty Shabazz hospital bed scene). However, Myrlie Evers-Williams’ character only makes a brief appearance in the film when Dr. Shabazz took the position to teach at Medgar Evers College. Maybe one day, Myrlie Evers-Williams will tell her side of this story.
What Their Stories Mean for Us
All things considered, I believe we have a reason to rejoice with the production of this film. Mrs. King and Dr. Shabazz came together to shepherd the legacies of their husbands, but that is only part of their stories. The bigger story is these women stood together and turned their tragedies into triumphs. Even more important, both women used their faith, family, and friendships to advocate justice on behalf of women, children, the poor, and oppressed. They stood together and changed the world.
A twitter reflection by @lativida sums it up well: Take note all you dumb reality shows! This is how REAL BLACK WIVES act! These women knew real pain and persevered! #BettyandCoretta.
Betty and Coretta were strong in their own rights. They were single mothers who became grandmothers and they took care of their families. They took the mantles that were passed to them and used them as a foundation to build their communities and our nation. They remind us, each of us (the single mother, wife, or young person of any gender), of what we can do with faith, friendship, and forgiveness, for this, yes this is how real black wives behave! Thank God for their tenacity, legacies, and friendship.
A LONG TRAIL OF RUFFLED FEATHERS: In March, New York University students demonstrated against the Chick-fil-A company and the donations it gives to conservative organizations opposed to gay marriage. (Photo: Richard B. Levine/Newscom)
What in the world? What’s going on when in the home of the free a person can’t be brave enough to express their opinion without someone calling for a chicken boycott?
Personally, I don’t like chicken much anyway. I think it’s because my wife cooks it with just about every meal. But, before I talk myself out of supper, let me quickly add that she cooks chicken very well — much better than Chick-fil-A. Still, many people around the country still give Chick-fil-A a first-place ribbon when it comes to fast fowl.
Chick-fil-A’s owners are known for espousing strong Christian values (you can’t get the stuff on Sundays), but now that the company’s COO, Dan Cathy, has restated his well-known opinion regarding same-sex marriage, folks want to chop the company’s gizzards?
People suddenly have something against good fast food chicken (if there is such a thing). No apparent qualms with greasy spoons KFC, or Church’s Chicken, or Bojangles or even Popeye’s. All because some rigid people (and politicians who are often on the lookout for a situation to pimp for votes) believe that Cathy has offended a certain American minority group — the LGBT community.
The black community, which has a long history with and reverence for the proper use of boycotts, ought to be pecking mad about this.
Black folks know all too well about chicken and stereotyping. Still, black folks haven’t cried boycott over being branded lovers of watermelon and “finger lickin’ good” chicken made by “de good ole” antebellum KFC colonel. Black folks didn’t cry boycott over the blatant marketing ploy of gospel singer Kirk Franklin praisin’ and dancin’ for Church’s Chicken or some of Church’s other questionable ads. And do I even have to mention Bojangles Chicken ‘n’ Biscuits? More recently, we blasted hip-hop soul icon Mary J. Blige but then quickly forgave her for singing on a table about Burger King’s new Crispy Chicken Wrap. No BK boycott. And Lord knows if we haven’t yet called for an all-out boycott over Popeye’s “Annie the Chicken Queen,” (some have dubbed her a modern-day mammy), then no one should be calling for one against Chick-fil-A’s stance in favor of traditional marriage.
Besides, perhaps a sign that you’ve grown up as a minority group in America is when your feathers are no longer ruffled by every perceived slight.
Americans, including some members of the LGBT community, who have not joined in the boycott cackling, are displaying common sense. They understand that freedom of speech is a sacred right. Shutting down one person’s free speech (even when we don’t like what they say or believe) puts ALL of us at risk. It also stifles much needed honest dialogue that could lead to understanding, mutual respect and coexistence. The politicians claiming they will block Chick-fil-A from opening stores in their cities know that they are selling wolf tickets with extra sauce. They have no legal basis to do so and their cities would be sued, costing taxpayers millions. Besides, people need jobs and cities need tax revenue.
A boycott is a serious weapon that should be reserved for challenging Constitutional offenses like employment, healthcare, or voter discrimination. Or hate crimes where people were beaten, gunned down, or hung from trees. Or when a child of God feels so bullied and humiliated that he commits suicide.
Cathy’s comments are far away from this coop.
His public relations team mishandled the news and social media onslaught his comments triggered (a fake Facebook account to cover your tracks against the Muppets? C’mon now, people). The error was compounded by the sad sudden death of Don Perry, Chick-fil-A’s longtime vice president of public relations.
Cathy simply offered his personal Bible-based opinion that marriage should be between a man and woman. As long as Chick-fil-A does not discriminate against gays and lesbians in anyway, there’s nothing legally wrong with a businessman sharing his opinion. (A wise business move? Well, that’s another story).
If Chick-fil-A ever does in fact discriminate, the company should be condemned because it would not only be in violation of federal law but in betrayal of the Christian Beatitudes it espouses. In that case, I would be the first to say “no thanks” if my wife ever suggested we hit the Chick-fil-A drive-thru for dinner.
A week ago, I was reminded of something that I didn’t realize I needed to be reminded of. I’m a Christian, so I know that I am loved, that I was created with and for a purpose, that I have power available to me that doesn’t come from this world. But as a Christian black woman, I was reminded that I also rock.
I haven’t had cable television for years, so this was my first time watching the BET broadcast of the Black Girls Rock! awards event. And when I saw previews for the show, old questions like those that have been asked since the initiation of Black History week-later expanded to Black History month-crossed my mind. Questions like, Is this type of show really necessary?If white women televised an event called “White Girls Rock,” blacks would go crazy and call it racist. Isn’t this kind of show racist, too? And finally, any recognition of girls and women automatically includes black girls, so why should the whole society have to especially recognize black girls?
On a more personal level, I wanted to form a faith-based opinion of both the movement and the show that would be airing. So I asked myself, Is it okay for me, as a Christian woman, to accept a recognition and celebration of something created specifically to honor just women of color, particularly black women? Is this an exclusionary event, and what’s the right way to think about it?
Furthermore, I must admit to a little stereotypical thinking. Was everyone going to look like an audition prospect for a Lil Wayne video? If so, I was definitely not interested. So I felt some hesitation. But I am so glad I did watch.
The power of the show comes from the purpose of the movement. Black Girls Rock! was started by former model and DJ Beverly Bond as a way to “build the self-esteem and self-worth of young women of color by changing their outlook on life, broadening their horizons, and helping them to empower themselves.” Her organization does this by exposing girls age 12-17 to diverse arts-based experiences including writing, Broadway performances, and a workshop that teaches DJ’ing skills and techniques. Back in 2006 when she started BGR, Ms. Bond was concerned about young black girls’ likely inability to process and resist the onslaught of negative media images of themselves, and the consequences they were vulnerable to because of that inability. Five years later, Black Girls Rock! has evolved into a meaningful brand which includes the awards telecast.
Check out the video below for background on the movement’s history:
Everything about the show reflected not only BGR’s purposes to uplift and inspire, but also Ms. Bond’s personal commitment to integrity, a visual ethic, and dignity. The overarching themes of strength and resilience were strikingly displayed in Mara Brock Akil’s characterization of black women as those who never give up, and her entreaty to us to make our voices heard in all kinds of conversations at every level in society. This was echoed in Angela Davis’ Icon award acceptance speech in which she challenged black girls to imagine themselves part of a community of resistance. Jill Scott’s bold performance of “Womanifesto,” Estelle’s haunting “Thank You” to a former lover, and Mary Mary’s vibrant remake of “Keep Your Head to the Sky” were part of a memorable soundtrack of the evening.
What pulled the whole experience together for me was the segment highlighting the role of faith in helping black girls experience the strength and resilience they are being encouraged to develop. Seeing Shirley Caesar accept the Living Legend Award resonated with me as a Christian and helped answer my questions about possible conflicts between the movement and the Christian faith.
My hesitations are eased because I see that while this effort to specifically empower black girls and women could possibly be portrayed as a misguided and exclusionary attempt to engender feelings of superiority, it is actually just the opposite. It challenges the exclusionary rhetoric of superiority by strengthening the self concept of those being excluded as inferior, and elevating equality as the basis of inclusion. In fact, this movement could be especially game-changing for Christian women of color by helping us re-frame our identity so that we include ourselves among those creations of God which He called “good,” rather than how others image us. It actually puts ethnicity in perspective. Ethnicity and color are means to an end, not ends unto themselves. They are ways to show the glory, beauty, and wisdom of God; to demonstrate the truth of His claim that He uses the things considered weak in the world’s eyes to shame those who consider themselves mighty (1 Cor. 1:27); and to prove to us that because He has overcome the racism, prejudice, misperception, and oppression of the world, we can too (John 16:33).
So to all the black girls and women out there who love and serve the Lord Jesus Christ, yes, we rock too!
If you’d like to encourage a girl or woman of color you know who rocks, give her a shoutout by listing her name in the comments section below.
The Pendulum is a weekly survey of America’s top trending topics. This week we’ve got the GOP presidential candidates, Don Lemon’s revelation, Mary J. Blige on the big screen, Whitney Houston’s relapse, and much more. (more…)