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

by Courtney
February 2, 2013 6:18 PM
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Betty & Coretta

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.

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  • Mary Bethel | February 4, 2013 9:30 PMReply

    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.

  • Caryn | February 3, 2013 11:41 PMReply

    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?

  • Sphinx | February 3, 2013 4:34 PMReply

    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.

  • Eshowoman | February 6, 2013 2:21 AM

    BGLOs are not gangs. You make sound like black sororities are doing drive bys on the campus quad. That is incredibly ignorant.

  • CareyCarey | February 3, 2013 3:34 PMReply

    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.

  • walker | February 3, 2013 12:40 PMReply

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

  • nita | February 3, 2013 10:11 AMReply

    This movie was very disappointing

  • just4kicks | February 3, 2013 9:24 AMReply

    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.

  • vdub0408 | February 3, 2013 3:17 AMReply

    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 | February 3, 2013 12:26 AMReply

    loved it. great movie

  • springhop09 | February 3, 2013 12:26 AMReply

    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.

  • ok | February 5, 2013 7:18 PM

    lmao!!!!! who does this?!?!?!?! lmao!!!

  • ernest | February 3, 2013 4:25 AM

    hilarious plug for da hoppa...

  • Ashley1 | February 3, 2013 12:35 AM

    You can't be serious. FOH.

  • BluTopaz | February 3, 2013 12:04 AMReply

    happy Black history month. Love, Caucasian media machine

  • MsWilliamsWorld | February 4, 2013 12:40 PM


  • CareyCarey | February 3, 2013 6:24 PM

    Blutopaz, I feel you. Black History Month Bah Humbug. You said it right... Caucasoid media machine.

    Now, since this is a slow Sunday (unless a Super Bowl Party is at hand) I have a few - long - words on Black History Month..

    Quick... Rabbi Marvin Hier? What, you're not familiar with his name? Well, how about Simon Wiesenthal, have you heard of him? Of course you have... I think? Rabbi Marvin Hier is the Dean and Founder of the Los Angeles based, Simon Wiesenthal Center.

    "But Carey, what does that have to do with Black History Month?"

    Well, I can show you better than I can tell you. Come on, I'm gonna take you by a friend's house. He's actually a turtle but lets listen in on a conversation between him and The Wizard. There they are over there by that wishing well. Hush up, be quiet, listen.

    Wizard: Twizzle Twazzle Twizzle Trone, time for this one, to come home

    Little Wannabe Turtle: Help me Mr. Wizard... Mr. Wizard, MISTER WIZARD!"

    Wizard: How many times I tell you? Be just what you is and not what you is not. Those that do this, are the happiest lot.

    Announcer: The turtle had a propensity to ride off on journeys that could be called " a fool's errands". All his fantasies had a real sweet smell and looked like fun - in the story books. But he soon found out that there's nothing like the real thang.

    Wizard: Come on good buddy, we're taking a trip.

    Little Tudor Turtle: Where are we going?

    Wizard: We are going to Black History

    Little Tudor Turtle: You mean black history month?

    Wizard: Actually there is no such thing as "black history" month, so come along.

    Turtle: Wait, I already know about the peanut and the spook who sat by the door. I mean, last years, during Black History Month, we learned about Lorraine Hansberry and Adam Clayton Powell.

    Wizard: Well my bumpy shelled little friend, I don't know what you're talking about. Lorraine Hansberry did not write The Spook That Sat By The Door. So come along, I think you need a little schooling... I think you can use the real thang.

    Little Turtle: Wait, that's by Marvin Gaye & Tammy Terrel... "ain't nothing like the real thang baby"

    Wizard: See, that's what's wrong with some black folks. They know all there is about sport and play... Beyounce, Lil Wayne, Lifetime channel movies, Super Bowls, and can sing like the birds, but are they passing down the real thang?

    Turtle: But Mr. Wizard, what's this real thang that you keep talking about?

    Wizard: Shut your mouth and you might learn something. Look at those happy-go-lucky educated black folks over there. Down there, sitting at that round table.

    Announcer: The scene shifts to a room full of black faces. It's an auditorium filled with youth and their parents. On the stage, at a chalk board, a young black kid hurries to write a name. He can be heard saying the letters as he meticulously forms their outline.

    Black kid: T.H.E T.U.S.K.E.G.E.E A.I.R.M.E.N.

    The Crowd: "That's right!" "That's my son!" "Tell the truth Boy" "That boy is smart!"

    Announcer: After a series of questions, another black youth is seen standing at the chalk-board.

    He begins: "W.I.L.L.I.A.M W.E.L.L.S B.R.O.W.N"

    The Crowd: "SAY IT LOUD BOY!" "Oh Lord, we gotta battle now" "Yes sir, dem boys knows what they talkin' bout"

    Announcer: The little turtle is excited because he had never heard of many of the championed black heroes. But the Wizard had seen enough. The Wizard had seen history in all it's ugliness. Consequently, he thought those jovial black faces... those image conscience leaders of the black race, needed a taste of the real thang. With a crisp movement of his magical wand, he appeared on stage in front of the mesmerized and stunned crowd.

    Wizard: Hear Ye, my mislead black friends. Black History Month should be just what it is and not what it's not. People who know the real truth, is the happiest lot. And, btw, that's a lot

    Crowd: Get outta here you crazy white man. We are free to do as we please.

    Little Tudor Turtle: Come on Wiz, lets get out of here, they're all hyped on that Jeopardy game of "Name That Negro". And see, I can understand their disdain because I don't know what you are trying to say, either.

    Wizard: Do you remember the name Simon Wiesential? Well, he was a Nazi Hunter. Today I am talking about the retched inhumanity of slavery. See, the Jewish community didn't spend their time and money on feel good board games and silly Lifetime movies. They didn't have time for that nonsense. They built a center that sees over 1/2 million visitor a year! It was founded to challenge visitors to confront bigotry and racism and to understand the Holocaust in both historical and contemporary context. They know they can't afford the luxury of ever forgetting the REAL thang. The American Negro is tranquilized. They rest with their bellies full of special holidays and passes to the good neighborhoods and good government jobs and store bought straight hair and "bleached" skin.

    Little Misguided Tudor Turtle: Please Mr. Wizard, you're making me feel uncomfortable. Besides, slavery was not as bad as the Holocaust, so we should just let it go. If I was a slave...

    The Wizard: Hold it right there, the Jews were some of the first slaves and I am going to let you have your wish. I am going to take you back to the shores of Africa. I'm going to be with you, but you will not be able to see me, but you will be able to hear me. When you have a problem, speak to me and I'll respond.

    Little Turtle: BUT!

    The Wizard: But nothing, lets go.


  • CareyCarey | February 3, 2013 5:55 PM

    Announcer: The little turtle has again made his move too soon. The wizard waved his magic stick and the turtle was off to Africa. He's a proud king standing over his flock. He's in the Congo. It's a hot and humid summer day. He hears a cry from far off in the brush. Then the scene changes. We hear the voice of the little turtle.

    Little Tooter Turtle: Mr Wizard!.... Mr WIZARD!

    Wizard: Be quiet my son, there is nothing you can do now. You're in the bottom of a dark and dank slave ship

    Tooter Turtle: But where is my father, my wife, my mother and brother?

    Wizard:'It doesn't matter now, you will never see them again. Conserve your energy and hold on to life. How do you feel?'

    Confused Little Tooter Turtle: My back is on fire and there's an awful smell around me

    Wizard: That smell is death! That man chained next to you died several days ago. The man laying above you is dying of dysentery. That substance on your chest is his bowel movement, and the feces of several slaves in the tiers above him. Lay still, that pain in your back is your flesh being rubbed off by the movement of the ship. Please hold on. Many of you will not make it through this middle passage. You are not even half way there. STAY ALIVE!

    Turtle: But where am I, and where am I going?

    Wizard: You are in a place that some would call a living hell, and you are traveling to an evil land

    Hundreds of days later

    Weak and dying little Turtle: Mr. Wizard, why have we stopped and what is that sound hitting the ship?

    Wizard: You have arrived at your new home. It is a place called America. You are a slave. You are chattel that will soon be owned by an exploiter of black humans. Your sister died in the middle passage. While your brother was being lead to the top deck of his dungeon, he jump into the sea. He could no longer bare his pain. You may never see your wife again and it's possible that she may not want to ever see you in the state she's in. She has been raped and brutalized by her many. She's now carrying a child, the product of those rapes. That child will also be slave to be sold, or to be used to produce more slaves. Those sounds you hear outside of the ship, are the bodies of slaves that were thrown overboard from several miles out to sea. They died in the final leg of the journey and their bodies have drifted inland. The Governor of the state of South Carolina is appalled at the sight of those bodies. Not because of the death of humans but because of the stench of the bodies floating in his harbor

    Suffering Little Turtle: OH HELP ME LORD, I don't want to be a slave anymore! How many are like me? How many of my people have died?

    Wizard: MILLIONS! This has been going on for hundreds of years. The Holocaust lasted a few years. There will be a severe price to pay for your freedom, if you ever achieve it!

    Tooter Turtle: I will run, I' d rather die trying to gain my freedom, than live a life that's less than a dog's

    Wizard: Run then, when you get a chance, run, and may God be with you.


  • CareyCarey | February 3, 2013 5:40 PM


    Announcer: Several years later, the little turtle that wanted to be a slave is seen withering in pain. He tried to escape his bondage.

    Tooter Turtle: Mr. Wizard, what is this pain!? What is happening to me?

    The Wizard: For your repeated attempts to run to freedom, you have been branded like cattle with hot irons

    Announcer: The little turtle is seen holding on to life. He has been castrated for his last attempt at freedom. Other slaves are seen hanging from tree with their genitals stuffed in their mouths. Word has spread that hundreds of freed black are being burned at the stake for a protest in the State of New York. However, the resilience, courage and spirit of the black man can not be broken. Angola Warriors started an uprising on the coastline of South Carolina. They tried to make it to a free colony in the State of Florida. They failed, all were killed.

    Wizard: Twizzle Twazzle Twizzle Trone, time for this one, to come home. 'How many times I tell you? Be just what you is and what you is not. Those that do this (people and turtles) are the happiest lot.

    The Little Turtle and the Wizard sat down for a long conversation. The wizard explained to the turtle that some people of color believe they have arrived and thus, feel no need to pass down the real thang. They are content with their month of celebration, forgeting their real past struggles. They'd rather dress to impress and champions movies that alters history. The Jewish community has places like the Simon Wiesenthal Center. The Black American has the NAACP and Black History Month.

    Although Black History Month highlights many great accomplishments of African Americans, their true gains/rewards can be attributed to many that are left off the championed list of who's who. Or at the very least, there stories are minimized to a safe a sanitized version. Truth be told, it wasn't Martin Luther King who inspired the USA to change some of it's evils ways, it was individuals like Malcolm X, Angela Davis and The Black Panthers. Never in the history of mankind has the oppressor relinquished it's stronghold on the oppressed without violence, or at the very least, the treat of it.

    I wonder how many blacks know the whole story of Dred Scott and Marcus Garvey? I wonder how many people know that Dred Scott was sent back to slavery, and how Marcus Garvey was stopped by being sent to prison on a bogus charge? Black History Month does not tell the whole story. It should be renamed to Uncle Sam's rendition of black history: The Edited Version - The Safe Way.

  • CareyCarey | February 3, 2013 5:23 PM

    * Testing *

    There was an American animated television series featuring Tooter Turtle and The Wizard. Mr. Wizard lived in a tiny cardboard box at the base of a tall tree (something like The White House). Tooter would knock on the cardboard box, to ask another favor. From inside the box, Mr. Wizard would shrink Tooter small enough to enter through the box's front door, and eagerly invite him in. Mr. Wizard has the magic to change Tooter's life to some other destiny, usually sending him back in time and to various locales. Since none of Tooter's alternate lives ever worked out, the moral of each segment was always the same: "Be satisfied with your lot."

    When Tooter's trip finally became a catastrophe, he always called out the same thing, "Help me, Mr. Wizard!" Mr. Wizard would rescue him with the incantation, "Drizzle, drazzle, druzzle, drome; time for zis one to come home." Then, Mr. Wizard would always give Tooter the same advice: "Be just vhat you is, not vhat you is not. Folks vhat do zis are ze happiest lot." Tooter never learned, though.

  • Rocket | February 3, 2013 12:04 AMReply

    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.

  • LS | February 2, 2014 11:39 PM

    I agree only to a point. Perhaps network owners do not want the account of family members because it will expose the degradation an REAL TRUTH!
    There is so much "Black History" omitted from the educational system it is shameful.
    The american history book in school NEVER teach or reveal, if you will how this country was truly founded. Nor does it teach the many contributions and dicoveries of races other than Caucasians.

  • Arthur | February 3, 2013 5:26 PM

    Why is it that when ever a movie is made about prominent black people in society, we or people close to the situation is hardly consulted because of a potential biased slant. but when it's the history of the Holocaust or other people the same standard isn't used.

  • Wise | February 2, 2013 11:23 PMReply

    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.

  • Selah | October 15, 2013 10:57 PM

    Jealous people...

  • Man-Over-Bored | February 4, 2013 2:10 PM

    I actually like Bassett, thought she put in solid work playing Tina Turner, but believe somewhere in her creative journey she lost her way. Now, she acts as if every chance on screen will be her last -- and she's probably not that wrong, considering the crappy, Tyler Perry-grade work she now puts in. Under a good director, though, I think there's still hope for her; one would inevitably instruct her to tone that sh*t down a bit. Regarding MJB, however: there is no hope for her whatsoever. I don't want to ever again hear her sing, let alone attempt to act!

  • sergio | February 3, 2013 11:04 AM

    I interviewed Bassett once when she was promoting Jumping the Broom. She even overacts during a interview. Jesus, I was worn out by the time I left!

  • CareyCarey | February 3, 2013 9:43 AM

    Overdone... overacting actress... IT'S A TIE! Cicely Tyson vs. Angela Bassett.

    I know, I know, it's blasphemous to talk bad about MLK, James Brown or Cicely Tyson but I'm sorry. If Ms. Tyson was asked to strike a pose, not only would the position she would take immediately comes to mind ( stooped & bent ) , that mumbling passive aggressive voice tone is etched deeply in my memory lobe... and it rings "over-acting".

  • sergio | February 3, 2013 8:00 AM

    No you're not alone. I feel exactly the same way about Bassett too. Like I always say about her she could overact just brushing her teeth

  • Maria Fredericks | February 2, 2013 11:11 PMReply

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

  • Miles Ellison | February 2, 2013 11:07 PMReply

    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?

  • Man-Over-Bored | February 4, 2013 2:14 PM

    Or worse than Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lawrence: Zoe Saldana!

  • Sweeta | February 4, 2013 1:02 PM

    "the families should consider themselves lucky that Coretta Scott King and Betty Shabazz weren't being played by Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lawrence"

    LOL...if it weren't so tragic because it's TRUE!!!

  • getthesenets | February 2, 2013 9:10 PMReply

    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?

  • Vio12 | February 2, 2013 7:41 PMReply

    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.

  • Anon | February 2, 2013 6:51 PMReply

    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.

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