While Martin was portrayed as he typically is – conciliatory and in love with his own martyrdom, instead of the union advocating, anti-war activist that he was publicly transitioning into before he was gunned down for his efforts –, Malcolm’s courage under enemy fire (both from the United States government and the Nation of Islam), and unwavering dedication to human rights over civil rights were tossed aside in favor of attempts to show how much he had “changed.”
The tone was unabashedly one of disapproval, both for his calls to meet violence with violence – instead of turning the other cheek – and his refusal to fall victim to morality-dissolving patriotism. Instead of a movie that honestly explored the lives of these two men – if only as a peripheral storyline from the alternate vantage point of their spouses, it took its prime-time opportunity to dive head first into apologetic revisionism.
I get it; it’s Lifetime. I didn’t expect to see meetings of the Organization of Afro-American Unity or Muslim Mosque, Inc., but neither did I expect to see the daughter of our “Black Shining Prince” portrayed as being ashamed of his legacy when trapped behind the white-privileged walls of Princeton, or his wife struggling to soften the reverberating, game-changing blow of “By Any Means Necessary.”
Sadly, Betty and Coretta was “Real Housewives” of the Civil Rights Era — enjoyable, funny, fleeting drama, but nothing memorable. And when not brushing past the rich legacies of these women in favor of shoe shopping, knitting and cooking, with honorable mention to infidelity and enviable sex lives, it vilified Malcolm in its misguided attempts to redeem him.
Much respect to Mary J. Blige for telling our stories in unexpected places, but if there is one thing that this movie affirmed for me:
The lives of Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz is not a made for Lifetime movie.
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