Over the decades, the lives of civil rights legends Malcolm X and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. have been well chronicled in film, TV and books.
But Lifetime finds a new angle: the friendship between their widows, Betty Shabazz and Coretta Scott King, after their husbands were assassinated during the turbulent 1960s. The film, “Betty & Coretta,” debuts at 8 tonight starring Academy Award-nominated actress Angela Bassett as King and R&B singer Mary J. Blige as Shabazz.
Though Malcolm X and King were not particularly close, the widows found common ground starting in the early 1970s as single mothers with history-making spouses. Their ties grew stronger over the years until Shabazz’s death in 1997 from a tragic fire set by her grandson. They even took a spa vacation together.
Larry Sanitsky, an executive producer for the film, considered King “the Jackie Kennedy of the civil rights movement.” The film conveys how she embraced her husband’s legacy.
Bassett, who actually played Shabazz in the acclaimed 1992 film “Malcolm X” starring Denzel Washington, told ABC News that King considered her role “a God-given purpose, a calling on her life.”
King’s activism inspired Shabazz to become more vocal in the movement as well.
“These women were going through some horrible trials, and they were so strong,” Blige said in a recent news conference. “It’s good for Coretta that she stepped out and she made Martin’s voice heard; she made her own voice heard, and so did Betty.”
Actress Ruby Dee, who was friends with both of them, narrates the movie. It was filmed in Montreal, which masqueraded as New York and Atlanta, among other cities.
Sanitsky said he was thrilled Lifetime chose to air this film, in a move “not driven by numbers or working the headlines. This is a little-known piece of American history.”