What Mary J. Blige Learned from Playing Malcom X’s Widow in “Betty & Coretta”
The real-life friendship between Dr. Betty Shabazz and Coretta Scott King, who became single mothers after the assassinations of their husbands, Malcom X and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., is explored in the Lifetime Original Movie "Betty & Coretta," premiering Saturday, February 2 at 8.7c.
For Mary J. Blige, playing the role of Betty allowed her to work alongside one of her favorite actresses, Angela Bassett (Coretta). "I love, admire, and look up to Angela," said Blige, who used any intimidation she felt to learn and grow as an actress.
Ironically, Bassett had played Betty in the 1992 film "Malcom X," but Blige did her own research for the part. "It was scary, of course, but an honor," explained Blige, who was asked to play the role. "I didn't mind working hard to portray Betty."
As she developed her character, Blige found a connection between herself and Malcom X's widow: strength. “Always be strong during trials, stand by your relationships and your friends and help them through, and don’t give up,” Blige said.
Betty believed education would protect her children. “She was big on getting them educated and making them understand that education was key to everything out there in the world," answered Blige, when asked how Betty was a role model for her family.
Although Blige is a step mom to three children, she didn't consciously pull from her experience as a mom to play Betty. Instead, she used her mom's and grandmother's experiences. "I knew how my mom was if I played hooky or something!" Blige laughed.
Acting as an executive producer of "Betty & Coretta" (along with her husband) in addition to her starring role meant time away from her kids. "My family understands I'm an artist, and I'm always super busy," she explained. "This was something else my family understood I had to do."
In addition to telling the story of a mostly unknown friendship, Blige believes the film has a takeaway message for single mothers from Betty and Coretta: "You don't always need a man, but you do need to get yourself the education and training, a proper job to take care of your children, and the courage to continue fighting for family."