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Thoughts On 'Betty & Coretta' After Its Premiere This Weekend?

by Tambay A. Obenson
February 4, 2013 12:31 PM
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Betty & Coretta

Objections from the families of both women aside, I watched about 30 minutes of it, and, I'm sorry folks, I just couldn't continue. There's a Lifetime movie aesthetic that just isn't for me, but clearly it works for some. I don't have the ratings/viewership numbers yet, but Lifetime will likely issue a press release with those details, which we'll share here once we have them.

Instead of me criticizing it, I've just accepted that I'm not in the network's target audience anyway, so its programming likely won't do anything for me, and it's pointless for me to rip it apart. I tuned in because, well, I run a black film blog, so I need to be aware of what others are watching, especially en masse. 

One thing I'd say is that, while I give Mary J. Blige props for pushing herself (and also she did produce the film, so she put herself to work, instead of waiting for someone else to do so), I'd like to see her learn and practice the craft of acting more, by maybe taking small but strong, challenging roles here and there, over many years, becoming something of a character actor we could say, building up her cred, and gaining the necessary experience, before she attempts to tackle a role as significant as the one she does in Betty & Coretta, playing opposite the likes of Angela Bassett, who's classically-trained, and has been acting for decades, on stage, TV and Film.

Sure, go after your dream, by all means. I'm not trying to discourage; but it's irksome when talents who become stars in one field, transition to another in which they have little to no experience, and instead of taking their time to learn the craft necessary to succeed in the new field they've transitioned to, they dive right into these weighty jobs that they really have no business taking on... at least, not as soon as they often do. 

It's obviously not a blanket rule. There might be some who just have raw talent, and step right into almost any scenario or field, and impress. But I'd say those folks are in the minority.

I'm a filmmaker and writer, and if I wanted to become an actor, I wouldn't go audition to play Malcolm X tomorrow. Or even next year, or the year after that. Even I know my limits. I'd want to be respected by my peers, and taken seriously, especially by those whose work I respect. So I'd take my time, honoring the craft, really working on perfecting my abilities, in small but interesting roles that challenge me, on stage, on TV, and film. I might even do some small, independent regional play. I'd work to hone my skills, and spend whatever time I feel is necessary to put me on track to becoming great at what I do, and over time, take on larger and larger roles. 

But that's just me...

Remember, she also was previously attached to play Nina Simone - a role that now belongs to Zoe Saldana. So clearly, she's shooting for the stars, as they say, with Nina Simone and now Betty Shabazz. Who is she going to play next?

So anyway, I'd like to read what those of you who did Betty & Coretta over the weekend, and who maybe have a more objective, balanced take on it, feel about what you saw - what you liked, what you didn't like, etc.

So dig in...

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  • HanSoloSix | February 14, 2013 11:54 PMReply

    I've only read a few of the comments by now, and I'd like to thank the majority of you for ruining my Valentine's Day (or rather hers, because I celebrate commercial holidays badly; Really badly) but I can't, because the REAL gratitude belongs to the Lifetime Movie Network (or whatever), because if this production meant as much to them as I think it should have, then they'd still be casting for it. But then, I didn't know it was a Lifetime movie until now (which now makes it ALL make sense), so the burden is solely on me. (Full pardon for all, but me).

    As a black Texan, I began tonight by enjoying a KUT (local NPR) audio podcast with my wife, of an interview with the late Roots author, Alex Haley. I loved the relationship and story he shared about Bro. Malcolm (no I'm not a black Muslim); it was a powerful testimony. My Babygirl (wifey) was apparently equally inspired and wanted to share this film [of our discussion] with me. This 'film' (like many Tyler Perry movies before it) successfully made me 'out of a' (southern grammar) Butt hole. Thanks.

    Because I'm typing from my phone on the porch, while she's completely disgusted in the shower right now, I'll keep this as short as possible:I'm a bad 'movie- ologist', and it will show, but: Ruby Dee hooked me, she deserves my respect,and has it.

    I didn't know that this movie was sub-par until I saw the depiction of Malcolm (by whatever the acting brother's name is). I'm even sure that the guy playing him is a good actor, but (for now, in my opinion) he is NO Malcolm. The dialogue between he and Coretta (after his speech, before her visit to jail in the first few minutes of the movie) also seemed scripted, to me, and ingenuine (if that's a word. Lets read more, right).
    I appreciate all of you for your warnings and insight; and because I love MY woman, i think this experience is going to get very bad for me tonight.
    I slowly began LISTENING to the movie, looking away (as if it were a poorly read Shakespeare Audiovox play), imagining real historically black figures (or the actors thereof) and, in my mind, giving it a fair shot. She wasn't having it.
    She closed the laptop disgusted with my cynicism, and got in the shower (without me).

    Reading this review, in the meanwhile, only confirmed my skepticism (dang. Thanks,guys)....and now she's getting out... SO WRAPPING UP:

    I'll (painfully) watch the rest 1.) To show her that i care, and 2.) To respond, hopefully more objectively, on my experience here

    But I'm not liking what i see so far (though i love black history, and really encourage reading, studying, and acting in that realm).

    Respond to this, and I'll do many best to respond to you. (And yes, as mentioned earlier: I'll TRY to finish the movie to give it a fairer shot)

  • Rashidah | February 6, 2013 5:36 PMReply

    I must agree with everyone elso. I really do like Mary J. Blidge and Angela Bassett. This was one of reason I finished watching the movie. I had a bad feeling when I found out the movie was going to be on Lifetime. The acting was not that great and it seemed rushed. I would like to commend these two ladies for attempt, but the movie just failed to capture my attention.

  • Hassan Fvckry (@DLYDJ) | February 5, 2013 9:55 AMReply

    I tried to force myself to watch it and couldn't get through it either. You gotta respect the attempt, but the acting was so bad that it's no surprise that the family's had problems with this film.

  • Jackie Chainz | February 4, 2013 7:30 PMReply

    Queue an overlong reply from CareyCarey explaining why he was easily impressed by a sub-par film.

  • CareyCarey | February 5, 2013 10:51 PM

    Troy, I don't know if I am reading you right. I do not believe my biggest compliant has anything to do with "inaccuracies". First and foremost, it was the acting that harbored the bulk of my disdain.

    So why did you mention "white" movies and reading books?

  • Troy | February 5, 2013 9:59 PM

    Are there terrible historically inaccurate white movies that gets to you the way that this did? I am gaging your tolerance on the subject matter. Reading books have not gave me an insight to how they lived.

  • CareyCarey | February 4, 2013 9:48 PM

    Alright Jackie, you got me. BUT... I have to say I AM NOT easily impressed ANYTHING. I try to be fair in my assessment of people, places and films.

    Not that I have that out of the way. If you're referring to my take on Tyler's products or Joseph Elmore's "Because I Love You" -- again -- I look at the big picture. Listen, it's not about whether I'm impressed or not, it should be about the goals/ambitions/rewards of the filmmaker and the audience. With that in mind, who defines a "sup-par" film? YOU? WHO?

    Listen, as I said in another post, my lady loves everything Tyler Perry. In many ways I am jealous. She doesn't watch movies as an armchair movie critic. Me... on the other hand... I can find so many reasons to complain. Sometimes I get so upset with a movie that I can't stand myself. On several occasion she has asked me why do I let movies take me there. I'm like... yeah, why do I do that? So I am trying to learn how to take the "good" and leave the rest behind.

    Having said that, I CAN'T DO IT! Well, it was my lady's turn to pick tonight's movie. Low and behold she picked Lifetime's Betty & Coretta! I watched about 40 minutes and I was DONE... do you hear me... DONE! She was sopping it up like she was dining on home-made Sunday morning biscuits, but I was cringing from the start.

    Look, as with some singer's songs that shouldn't be touched ( Aretha's and Whitney's), there's only a small few actors who should put their hands on anything Malcolm, MLK, Betty & Coretta. Needless to say -- and without explanation -- Malik Yoba, Lindsay Owen Pierre, Mary J Blige & Angela Bassett are NOT the ones. OMG... what a farce. From the script, through the acting and the propaganda slant, the movie is a ridiculous insult to all the families portrayed in this Lifetime special.

    So I was sitting here with my lady (the movie is still playing) trying to figure out a nice way to tell her I couldn't do it anymore. Well, I just got up, walk to my PC and started typing. She said, "you don't like it -huh?". I laughed and said, nope... I can't do it. She understands and we'll finish the night watching Netflix's House Of Cards.

  • Ashley1 | February 4, 2013 1:31 PMReply

    I agree with everything you wrote. I'll leave it at that.

  • jeni | February 4, 2013 1:23 PMReply

    Saw it yesterday, and I thought it was an okay effort for a Lifetime movie. However, it would have been dead in the water without Ruby Dee to give it a modicum of gravitas and legitimacy. I think that they could have used a stronger director to keep the action moving, because there were parts that didn't hold my attention, there was some overacting, and I kept wondering how much of the stars' lines were based on actual conversations. The part with Coretta asking Betty at a cafe' if Malcolm cheated on her was totally unbelievable.
    Regardless, MJB did better than I expected.

  • Katrina T. | February 4, 2013 12:50 PMReply

    There are some actors that play roles so well that you start to place there face into the time period. Example Denzel Washington in X contributes to many people thinking of his face instead of the actual El Hajj Malik El Shabazz (Malcolm X). However I watched the entire film (simply because I was too lazy to move from my couch and as a history professor always interested in the story that is told.) I though Mary J. Blige portrayed herself more than Dr. Shabazz. I was never ever convinced that she was Dr. Shabazz from her Yonkers accent and body language to simply her reactions. Its sad because I am an historian and I was simply bored with the movie...Dr. Shabazz was really the center of the story and with sad performance of singer, not actress, Mary J. I just think that a film that could have finally recognized the women that stood next to the men and continued standing once the "men" were gone was disappointing and left me wanting my time back.

  • Nadell | February 5, 2013 2:21 PM

    "...but it's irksome when talents who become stars in one field, transition to another in which they have little to no experience, and instead of taking their time to learn the craft necessary to succeed in the new field they've transitioned to, they dive right into these weighty jobs that they really have no business taking on... at least, not as soon as they often do."
    Agree totally with Tambay's statement - and this should be a standard method for all singers pacing their way into the world of acting.
    Tambay's statement ties into what you stated. Blige portrayed herself in the role. I DID NOT watch this film and I do not plan on watching it; the preview/trailer alone was a sole indication of how much Mary J. Blige played the role of herself.
    I do understand that if you've invested not only time but money into a film I guess there is some sort of desire to want to actually cast yourself but it should NOT be the rule...

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