Betty & Coretta

Movie review by
Emily Ashby, Common Sense Media
Betty & Coretta Movie Poster Image
Moving tribute to two civil rights widows' legacies.
  • PG
  • 2013
  • 120 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

The movie spotlights two inspiring women whose husbands' legacies helped define their own but whose lesser-known stories were equally integral to the success of the civil rights movement. Their shared goal of selfless service motivated their humanitarian work and its far-reaching results. The story pays homage to the collective courage that set in motion the civil rights movement.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Betty and Coretta are strong in their respective faiths and devoted to causes that advance humanity and peace. Both women become single parents when their husbands are killed, facing the compounded challenges of raising their kids and stepping into the spotlight to continue the men's activism. Each turns tragedy into personal motivation, which in turn inspires others to follow suit. 

Violence

Malcolm X is shot onscreen, and his bloodied body is partially visible. Video footage of conflicts between police and protesters show beatings and other violence. A family's house is set on fire in an attempt on their lives; another house fire leaves a woman severely burned and eventually claims her life.

Sex

Physical affection between couples (hugging, kissing). Dialogue references a historic figure's documented extramarital affairs. Another has a baby out of wedlock.

Language

Rarely "hell," "damn," and "son of a bitch."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Alcohol is present only once, when it's implied that Betty's daughter is battling addiction to it and possibly other substances.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Betty & Coretta is a biographical story about the widows of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. The movie is set during the civil rights movement, so you'll see video footage of violent exchanges between police and protesters, the firebombing of a family's house, and a re-enactment of Malcolm X's assassination. Language ("son of a bitch," "hell," "damn") is sparse, and sexual content is limited to references of King's marital infidelity. This moving story offers a unique glimpse into the historical events of this time period, shown from the point of view of the women who shouldered the weight of the cause after their husbands were killed for their work.

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What's the story?

Angela Bassett and Mary J. Blige star as recognizable widows of the civil rights movement in BETTY & CORETTA. The story opens shortly before the assassination of Malcolm X (Lindsay Owens Pierre), which leaves his wife, Betty (Blige), the single parent of four girls (plus twins born a few months later). Financial insecurity and the misunderstood messages of her husband's controversial legacy leave Betty with an uncertain future. Bassett plays Coretta, wife of Martin Luther King Jr. (Malik Yoba), who is also thrust into single parenthood with her husband's violent death. When their paths cross in later years, these women's shared experiences forge an indelible friendship that belies their late husbands' conflicting views and sees them through the ups and downs of raising their families and continuing the men's activism.

Is it any good?

This is a poignant tribute to the courage and fortitude of two unexpected civil rights heroes. It's narrated by celebrated actress Ruby Dee, whose firsthand accounts of the women she knew through her own activist work frame Betty & Coretta's segments. For many, this will be an introduction to these two figures who typically blend into the scenery in history's telling of their famous husbands' work on behalf of human liberty. But the movie makes a strong case for their own place in the books, earned by Betty's and Coretta's willingness to step up and carry the load left behind when their husbands were killed.  

But following two stories over the course of three decades is no small undertaking for a TV movie, and it suffers a bit from an inconsistent pace. It's often difficult to follow the timeline (especially since the actresses themselves don't seem to age much), and rarely do the characters or narrator reference the passage of years in quantifiable terms. In light of this, viewers will have an easier time keeping up with the story's progress if they have some familiarity with the major events in the civil rights movement and its aftermath. In any case, it's a beautifully crafted tale punctuated by passionate lead performances that shed light on these brave women's lives and may encourage further research and discussion about this turning point in American history.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the legacies left by Betty and Coretta. What unique characteristics mark each one's work for human rights? Do their messages transcend the African-American cause? What other groups continue to be influenced by their work?

  • Read more about the conflicting policies preached by Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. What life experiences contributed to their differing views on protest? Did each serve the cause equally?

  • Reflect on race relations today. What progress have we made toward true equality? Does the media ever perpetuate racial stereotypes? What impact can this have?

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