Starting off the month of February, honoring African American History Month, was the premiere of “Betty and Coretta” on the Lifetime network Saturday night. Tampa Bay viewers subscribing to Bright House Networks watched in on channel 38. This original Lifetime movie starred Mary J. Blige as Dr. Betty Shabazz and Tampa Bay’s own Angela Bassett as Coretta Scott King. Bassett grew up in St. Petersburg’s Jordan Park neighborhood while attending Boca Ciega High School. Coincidentally, Bassett portrayed Shabazz in the 1992 feature film “Malcom X.”
“Betty and Coretta” begins with iconic actress Ruby Dee as the TV movie’s narrator setting up the story of these two women. Starting off is Coretta Scott King, or Corrie as she’s referred to, meeting Malcolm X for the first and only time. Shortly after, it’s the story of Betty and Malcolm, interspersed with Coretta and Martin, while their husbands are still alive. After these men’s untimely deaths, with both having a definite premonition, the focus begins on the women’s lives as widows. Each takes on a different role with their lifelong activism.
A lot of attention is on Blige’s subplots with her raising six daughters, getting a Ph.D. and teaching at Medgar Evers College. Malcolm and Betty’s elder daughter, Qubilah, has a larger part in the beginning as well as towards the end. She wakes up from her sleep when some men outside sets their house on fire. Qubilah, along with her sisters, witness the brutal slaying of their father. Betty has to deal with this daughter dropping out of Princeton, going off to Paris, coming home with a baby named Malcom (Jr.), and charged with trying to kill Louis Farrakhan.
It ends with the house fire started by her grandson. Betty later dies of severe burn injuries 23 days later. King lived another nine years after her battle with ovarian cancer. This film would have been better served with focusing entirely on Shabazz’s life. The friendship between the two was good, though not as dramatic as Betty’s own life, especially in the latter years. Overall, it was a decent production about some history of civil rights, its two prolific leaders, and their extraordinary wives.