If you’re like me, you might have asked yourself, “Why are we getting another Rosa Parks movie?” I could say that Behind the Movement is different, that it reveals something new about the civil rights heroine that we didn’t know before. But I won’t do that because this special 2-hour TV One drama doesn’t strive to divulge new details or provide a shock factor. Rather, it connects today’s women’s movements, including #BlackLivesMatter, #MeToo, and #TimesUp, with Rosa Parks’ story of a black woman who through immense fear calmly yet resiliently became the face of a movement that helped center the humanity of black people in America.
Through its laser-sharp focus on the five days leading up to the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Behind the Movement begins on December 1, 1955, with the memory of Emmett Till’s murder months earlier still fresh in Parks’ mind. As she harbors feelings of helplessness and rage, we see Meta Golding as Parks then navigate microaggressions from her white clients at her work as a department store seamstress that same day. It’s a feeling many of us know all too well; when you consume the countless stories of injustice in the news, then must go to work the next day and contend with white toxicity in the office. It’s demeaning and pervasive.
It sets the stage for what comes next for Parks’ story in the film when on the way home she decides not to give up her seat for a white man on the bus in Alabama. Golding plays this pivotal moment so well. She’s no indignant. She’s not antagonizing. Rather, she simply tells the furious bus driver calmly—and yes, defiantly—that she will not be moving. By this point, any remaining black passengers have either moved further to the back of the bus or gotten off completely. Not Parks, though. The bus driver threatens to call the police, and she says’ do what you have to do’. She is soon after arrested.
Of course, Parks is scared. Golding doesn’t hide that in her performance. Parks is a wife and well-respected member of the community, is a secretary for the NAACP and is sitting behind bars in the next scene presumably running through her mind all the things that have just happened to put her in this position. In that short but important scene, we see her strike up a conversation with another black woman, whose name we never learn, in a neighboring cell. Her crime? Attacking her abuser boyfriend, who said that he would drop the charges if he stayed with her. She tells Parks that she told him in response, “I rather rot in jail.” Of all the momentous scene in this movie, this stands above them all—an image of two frightened yet determined black women who put their fears aside amid a tumultuous climate to stand up against the patriarchal and racist status quo. We don’t see this type of unity among black women enough on screen.
Though she was not the only woman to defy bus laws (pioneer Claudette Colvin, a teenager at the time, is among those mentioned as previous failed attempts to strike), Parks at first reluctantly ponders the idea of being the face of a boycott, particularly how dangerous that could be. But with the insistence of a community by her side that was clearly ready to revolt, Parks entrusted her valiant team of supporters—including Political Women’s Council president Jo Ann Robinson (Loretta Devine), civil rights leader E.D. Nixon (Isaiah Washington), and attorney Fred Gray (Derek Roberts) to help stage the first ever bus boycott Montgomery had ever seen on December 5, the same day that Parks’ case would come to trial. It was unprecedented, especially given how quickly they organized it.
It’s hard not to watch this without thinking about the modern movements we’re surrounded by today—and be reminded that so much of our history has been spearheaded by black women who decided that enough was enough. Though black women remain marginalized in women’s movements, we have forged our own platforms and, as Parks herself comes to realize by the end of this film, our seemingly small acts, ones that may terrify us the most, will help weave the American fabric that is cherished by the next generations.