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Betty Shabazz & Coretta Scott King Daughters Say Film Is Full Of Inaccuracies; Were Not Consulted

Betty Shabazz & Coretta Scott King Daughters Say Film Is Full Of Inaccuracies; Were Not Consulted

It probably won’t be a surprise to you to know that the families of Betty Shabazz and Coretta Scott King (their children primarily) object to Lifetime’s original movie, Betty & Coretta, starring Angela Bassett and Mary J. Blige, as the title characters (Angela plays Coretta and Mary plays Shabazz).

It seems to happen every time a film based on a real-life public figure goes into production.

It premieres tonight, Saturday, February 2 at 8/7c, less than 2 hours from the time of his post, and centers on the relationship between Betty Shabazz and Coretta Scott King, following how they continued on as single mothers, after their husbands (Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.) were assassinated.

In a Washington Post story yesterday, Ilyasah Shabazz and Rev. Bernice King express their frustrations over Lifetime and the film’s producers for not consulting with the children of both women whose lives are front and center in the film, and whose stories, after their husbands were killed, also included their children.

Both daughters strongly emphasize that the movie you will be watching tonight is fiction, and that it’s full of inaccuracies, fabrications and/or stretches of the truth, and they are bothered by that.

“My mother was not a weak, timid, insecure woman as portrayed,” Shabazz said. “She was regal, compassionate, strong, loving, beautiful, resilient and highly educated. That is why the Delta Sigma Theta sororities named academies all across this country after her, so others could be inspired how to turn triumph into tragedy.”

Those words came from Ilyasah Shabazz. And she gives more examples, even getting very specific about certain things that most of us may not notice.

As for Coretta Scott King inaccuracies, which the Washington Post piece says the King family is deeply-pained by…

One of the basic objections was how the film suggested that Coretta Scott King accepted the accusations that her husband was unfaithful to her based on what was supposedly heard on a tape sent by the FBI to the King home. This was not the case, as the King family has said for years.  

There’s a longer explanation that follows which you can read in full at the Washington Post website.

But both families say that wanted to get involved in the making of the film, but Lifetime and the film’s producers rejected their involvement, arguing that permitting the children to be of any influence on the making of the film could have resulted in a work that protected the legacies of their mothers, I suppose instead of warts and all stories.

“If only Lifetime had consulted us, the sisters, maybe this would be more than fiction. I am not pointing my finger solely at them, but it must be our responsibility to ensure history is properly documented,” Shabazz said.

This comes up with almost every film that tells a story about a real-life public figure. I’m reminded of Tambay’s November post – On Recent Biopics Of Black Public Figures – Their Legal Rights, As Well As Ethical/Moral Obligations?. And it will likely always come up, and we’ll keep asking the questions about everything from filmmakers taking creative/artistic license when it comes to stories based on real-life characters, whether families of the characters (or the characters themselves, if they’re still alive) should be involved in the making of these films, if certain legacies should be protected no matter what, whether movies are instructional, or should be considered instructional since, some would argue, that, in a case like this, there are many who will watch the film and believe that everything that happens really did happen exactly as it does in the film, and not everyone will rush to pick up a book or get on the internet and do their own independent research/reading to find out more.

Read the Washington Post story HERE.

By the way, Mary J. Blige is the film’s producer. For all intents and purposes, the production started with her interest in it. 

Malik Yoba plays Martin Luther King Jr, while, Lindsay Owen Pierre is playing Malcolm X in the movie.

Ruby Dee appears on-screen as a “historical witness” to narrate the story, “as someone familiar with the events of both their lives.

Yves Simoneau directed the film, from a script penned by Shem Bitterman.

The film is co-produced by Larry Stanitsky, with Jaja Johnson and Polly Anthony executive producing.

It premieres tonight, Saturday, February 2 at 8/7c

It’s one of 3 movies headlining Lifetime’s Black History Month celebration; the other 2 being Twist of Faith, starring Toni BraxtonMykelti Williamson and David Julian Hirsh; and Pastor Brown, with Salli Richardson-WhitfieldKeith DavidErnie HudsonTisha Campbell-MartinNicole Ari ParkerRockmond Dunbar and Michael B. Jordan.

This Article is related to: Television


Mary Bethel

I am watching this movie right now and what I seen so far I am very upset about what has been said. I wish that there would have allowed there children to have a voice in the movie. If my daughter did not have to watch would not have watched it.


For what it's worth Lifetime has a disclaimer that states that the film was based on true story but much of the work is fictionalized. Do people even know what that means anymore?


I think the bigger news here is that an AKA (Coretta Scott King) and a Delta (Betty Shabazz) actually got along. Wow, the women Greeks on my campus could have learned a LOT from this.


It's getting good up in here. Well, listen to the words of the producer Keep The Faith, Baby (2002). He stopped by in another post (Nina Simone) so I dragged it over here. "As the Producer of the 2002 Showtime biopic KEEP THE FAITH , BABY ( Harry Lennix, Vanessa Williams, Lance Reddick, Russell Hornsby) on the life of the legendary Harlem Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., it was vitally important to me for the family, two sides as he had two sons by his second and third wife, to be intergrally involved. That is why for marketing purposes I fought to have them designated as Co-Producers so that the audience knew that the "authenticity" of the story would not be uestioned and that they were very willing to have us tell it "warts and all", which we did" ~ That is why for marketing purposes I fought to have them designated as Co-Producers so that the audience knew that the "authenticity" of the story would not be questioned and that they were very willing to have us tell it "warts and all", which we did. ~ Geoffrey L. Garfield.

Well now, I have a few questions. I wonder if any members of the family were paid for their services? And, since the film received several awards in the black community ( i.e. 3 NAACP Image award nominations, 2 National Association of Minorities in Cable Vision Awards) I wonder if any of the family members spoke at any of the awards presentations?

On the "warts and all" tip, I saw the film (immensely enjoyed everything about it) but I wouldn't say it exposed many warts. It skimmed over a few, but it didn't make it's lunch "there". Oh no, Adam Clayton Powell Jr.'s life was full of scandal, deceit, and corruption. For the most part, the movie did a drive-by.


TRUTH….does anybody know what the defination of that word means anymore?


This movie was very disappointing


typical. i see the chip hasnt fallen off he shoulder yet :) maybe after spike lee does his slanted version all of you can jack off together in reverence.


I found this movie to be shameful. I had fairly low expectations for the project. What I saw did not even reach my low expectations. Just really, really, sad. The acting, the casting, the writing, the directing, alllllll sub-par. And of course since so few folk read these days, tons of folks are going to get most if not all of their information on Mrs. King and Dr. Shabazz from this mediocre film.

used car dealership owner

loved it. great movie


I have to agree with Rocket; the families of these two women would make producing this movie difficult without their personal biases being involved. I work at DISH, and Betty and Coretta has given me and my co-workers a lot to talk about. Unfortunately, this airs the same time my boyfriend likes to watch his favorite sports team. We finally resolved this issue with a new DISH Hopper Whole-Home HD DVR; with it we can watch up to 4 different HD programs on different televisions at the same time. I finally ended my arguments over why my shows are more important to watch than his sports.


happy Black history month. Love, Caucasian media machine


In general they have a point. However, sometimes family members are not the best arbitrators of accuracy when it comes to historical figures. Family members have agendas, too. Often they want the best side of the historical figure shown. But there is no point in making a film about the life of a historical figure if their shortcomings are not going to be explored. I haven't seen this film yet. But I figured it would be very "loose" on accuracy. A truly accurate film about the relationship between Mrs. King and Mrs. Shabazz would not have MJB playing one of the main characters. No disrespect. But the role of Betty Shabazz is over her head.


I feel like the only person in black America who thinks Angela Bassett is far from the colored cinema second coming. And I can hardly bear to watch MJB in an interview, much less in a movie. But I'm always interested in the parts of a real story that are fictionalized for film. There's a reason producers think the real thing won't resonate or translate on screen. For that reason, I am inclined to watch.

Maria Fredericks

I just finished watching the movie,and I loved it.

Miles Ellison

Given the way that these movies are being made these days, the families should consider themselves lucky that Coretta Scott King and Betty Shabazz weren't being played by Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lawrence. They should also consider themselves lucky that the film wasn't about some white guy who photographed them once. Considering the fact that this is on Lifetime, they're lucky that Martin Luther King and Malcolm X weren't portrayed as bigamist sociopaths with a hankering for statutory rape and domestic violence. Of course, why would anyone expect any kind of honest (or competent) portrayal in a movie made for a hack-level "entertainment" channel like Lifetime?


what is the source material for this film?

The late Manning Marable wrote a book about Malcolm X that was met with the same resistance from his family and other scholars..including the charge that Manning made a SEVERAL unsubstantiated claims.

Is this CSK and BS film SUPPOSED to be fiction?

First the "crispy chicken" fiasco , and now this….not looking good for Mary j. Blige?


This is starting to become a running joke. First Petey Greene, then Winnie Mandela, then Nina Simone, then Marvin Gaye, and now Betty Shabazz and Coretta King. Is it simply not possible to consult or even respect the families of these legendary figures before attempting to tell their stories? It's a poor reflection on the filmmakers, the films and the subjects of these films themselves in every way possible.


Of course Betty Shabazz wasn't a "timid, weak, and insecure" woman, but Mary J. Blige is. And since MJB is so green to acting, she couldn't hide that part of herself onscreen as Shabazz. We can at least rest in the certainty that the most popular depiction of Betty Shabazz onscreen is and will be Angela Bassett in Spike Lee's Malcolm X.

Catherine Robinson

I think Angela and Mary did a good job, I hope some one does a better job getting the truth from their children and be respectful about it.

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