TV Review - Betty and Coretta

Mary J. Blige plays Dr. Betty Shabazz, the widow of Malcolm X, and, Angela Bassett plays Coretta Scott King, the widow of Martin Luther King, Jr. This movie, directed by Emmy-winner Yves Simoneau, and written by Shem Bitterman and Ron Hutchinson, follows the thirty year friendship between Betty and Coretta, which formed in the wake of the assassinations of both their husbands. The movie is inspirational in that it shows how these two women stood strong after losing so much and how they managed to keep moving forward, even when facing various controversial issues regarding their husbands. Because Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. are so revered, a true criticism and indictment of them doesn't occur, even when it was totally warranted, particularly from their wives. Because the movie is all about bringing women together to lean on each other and reassure each other, showing the women as being nothing but loyal and dutiful and saintly is all that we get.

Ruby Dee narrates the story and fills in expository gaps, as the narrative jumps decades. Blige is a producer on this movie, which is something I could have guessed because the movie seems to favor Betty Shabazz's life over Coretta Scott King. This is a shame because Blige is not the better actress. Bassett could have given Blige some lessons being that Bassett played Betty in two other movies: Spike Lee's Malcolm X (1992) and Mario Van Peebles' Panther (1995), but clearly Blige is the star, so this movie is more about Betty's journey.

For example, we actually see Malcolm X's assassination. We don't see Martin Luther King's assassination. Following Malcolm X's death, we see Betty pick up her life and become a teacher at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn. Ironically, Medgar Evers was another Civil Rights leader who was assassinated about five years prior to Malcolm X. Yet, we don't see Coretta picking up her life. We see Betty's kids grow up, particularly her daughter Qubilah, and even her grandson, Malcolm Jr., but we don't see Coretta's kids grow up or get to know any of them at all.

Bassett as Coretta Scott King gets two really great moments. The first is the Black National Political Convention in Gary, Indiana, where Coretta gives a speech that mimics Martin Luther King. The other great moment for her is when Coretta learns about the FBI tapes by J. Edgar Hoover that basically exposed Martin Luther King's adulterous affair.

Bassett's reaction to learning about that affair proves how great an actress she is, but, from that point forward, we don't really see Coretta deal with this revelation. She basically puts the Civil Rights Movement over any flaws her husband might have had. Because Malik Yoba's accent as Martin Luther King is not all that convincing, not having him that much in the movie is probably best. Yet, at some point, Coretta would have to have wondered why her husband cheated, but it's never addressed here.

While Coretta continues to fight in MLK's legacy, Betty distances herself from Malcolm X's work and even after has to apologize in a sense for him. Most people generally think of MLK as the nonviolent protester and they think of Malcolm X as the one who's prone to violence. Malcolm X's "by any means necessary" is interpreted as a call to arms, literally. However, Betty constantly argues that violence is not who Malcolm X was.

It's odd because in this movie we see more of Malcolm X than MLK, so ironically we get to know Malcolm X more than MLK. Whereas it's easy to whitewash MLK's flaws because we barely see him, it's not so easy with Malcolm X because actor Lindsay Owen Pierre who plays the Black Muslim makes a very strong impression of who Malcolm X is. Being that Betty distances herself from the movement, whatever impression ultimately doesn't matter, but still there's a conflict there in the storytelling.

The true meat comes from moments when Betty has to deal with her daughter who is deeply affected by Malcolm X's death. It really challenges the legacy of both men. Betty's daughter Qubilah becomes a junkie. It's tragic to see where Qubilah's life goes. It doesn't help Betty's argument that her husband was for nonviolence when his daughter is being arrested for conspiracy to commit murder. The movie doesn't touch upon this arrest, but seeing the tragedy of her life overall sucks all the oxygen out of what is supposed to be an uplifting ending. I almost wish Bitterman and Hutchinson's script delved deeper in the end. More revelancy to what these women experienced could have been drawn.

Three Stars out of Five.
Rated TV-14.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 27 mins.


Popular Posts