TV One’s Behind the Movement explores the rise of the Montgomery Bus Boycott and honors heroine Rosa Parks.
The narrative has always been that she was "too old and tired" to give up her seat, but in reality, Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of the bus because she was "sick and tired of injustice," says Meta Golding.
Born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and raised in several countries including the United States, Golding (The Hunger Games) portrays the iconic civil rights activist in this original television movie that offers a closer look at how the history-making Montgomery Bus Boycott was planned in just three days and ultimately led to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s.
Behind the Movement honors the contributions of many unsung heroes of this historical moment in the Civil Rights struggle, recounting the inner workings and behind the scenes preparation that took place during the intense days between the fateful evening when Mrs. Parks refused to give up her seat, to the launch of this significant protest.
While Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a prominent leader of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, there was a chorus of lesser-known heroes, including Rosa Parks, who galvanized the most successful boycott of its time.
"I hope women see this as their legacy," says Golding, who co-stars opposite Isaiah Washington as Edgar "E.D. Nixon," Loretta Devine as Jo Ann Robinson, Roger Guenveur Smith as Raymond Parks and Lashaun Clay as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
During our conversation, Golding explained that the many "fables written about Mrs. Parks" have not told the complete and complex story about her activism. She describes Behind the Movement as "an interpretation."
"I'm not saying that we got it completely right but we try to stick with facts that she's written about and it's documented that she was not tired. There's this narrative that happens, to not only Black people but women, that they're not intelligent. That they are not strong. That they do not stand up for themselves. Rosa Parks was an activist her entire adult life, long before her refusal to get up out of her seat that day on December 1, 1955."
What was the most profound thing you learned about Rosa Parks while researching for this role?
What I learned about Mrs. Parks is that she was this seasoned activist and the narrative that was pushed about her was that she was just this innocent, little old lady who was too tired to get up out of her seat. And so delving into her and having the honor of trying to walk in her shoes, really inspired me and really taught me a lot about who she was and how people push narratives about others.
In a way, it was a strategy because they felt this would make others, not only in the black community who had to sacrifice their own lives by joining the boycott — 'cause it was very dangerous to demonstrate at that time — they needed, in their mind, what they thought was a responsible image.
Did you find playing her to be both a gift and a challenge?
It was such a challenge because so many people have this image of her and so you want to try and find the essence, and the essence is hard because the fable that was sent out about her wasn't true. And also, she's not alive. And the audio and video that was available was of her in interviews with white press and she wasn't very… camera friendly.
So it was hard to like, "How do I portray her essence when all we have of her is when she's very filtered?" And there was this whole narrative of her that was very soft. So I found that really challenging. Thankfully it's not like playing Martin Luther King where I just hear the temper of his voice and I'm like, "Okay. That's Dr. King."
I didn't really know what Mr. Parks sounded like, so I could relax a little bit on that but you want to be able to paint a picture of a person (whose) image has not been accurate. So that was kind of the biggest challenge.
But it was also the biggest honor because, from reading her books, she was a prolific author, she always taught about how her faith really gave her the courage to do everything that she did.
Because she was so courageous, I kind of entered into that and said "Wow, what if I just believed that God was on my side and I had this complete faith in all of my actions and I got rid of my fear because I knew that even if I was putting my life on the line, this was gonna work out and it's bigger than me.
When you think about the ways you were transformed by the research involved with playing Rosa Parks, can you speak on how this project changed your perspective as a performer?
It was so transformative. Besides doing all of the physical work to try to get the way she moved and her accent and those kind of things that are kind of given, you have to paint that picture or else people aren't going to believe it. The fact that she was a writer and I could read her words, and also the spiritual aspect of it, that transformed me.
It was a very ambitious shoot and I always tried to keep Rosa's spirit with me. She just always saw the dignity in humans. The dignity in every situation and that has really transformed me because I feel like now I see more things through that lens. I hope it lasts. And its made me more courageous.
Performance wise, I'm just seeing the film now. We had a premiere and we actually went to the Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery, Alabama, and we screened it there, which was amazing because everybody in the audience were either people who were scholars of Mrs. Parks or people who were descendants of Mrs. Parks and other characters in the film.
So the fact that they loved it and gave it a thumbs up really has taken any nervousness away because I really wanted to pay respect to the legacy of Mrs. Parks and the legacy of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. But I'm still processing everything.
I think that as a performer, its given me a little bit more trust because I was worried that I was giving too subtle of a performance because I really wanted to just try to get her essence. Now that I've seen the film, I think that I trust more in nuance.
Talk about the kind of effect you hope this film has on people everywhere, but most especially women.
I hope that they are proud because Rosa Parks is their legacy. She's a heroine, not just an African-America heroine. She's a heroine, period. So I hope that people take away that there's a Rosa Parks in us all and that Rosa Parks, she wasn't loquacious, but she was a doer. And she was very there with big, masculine personalities and still doing it in her feminine way.
It's kind of the rise of the feminine if you think about it. So I hope that women specifically are inspired by their history. And I hope that women also take away that Mrs. Parks took a stand and she made a choice and it was a fearless choice. It still took a community of people behind her.
It wasn't just Mrs. Parks, it was the whole Montgomery community, but it was a regular woman, a seamstress who, in her everyday life, was trying to go home and just got to her tipping point. Everybody else was at their tipping point too.
So if one person is courageous, just like we see now in the #MeToo Movement, it really inspires because sometimes we all think we're alone in these power dynamics but we're not. And if one person takes a stand, it inspires others too. So I really hope women are proud of this film.
Do the overall themes of this movie offer insight on how to tackle modern societal issues, such as race relations, effectively?
I think this film could almost be a playbook because it shows how much strategy goes behind a movement. That it's not just emotional or one person. It takes a community. They had been organizing for three years this boycott and were waiting for the right moment.
There's all of this right now on social media where people are talking and tweeting and Facebook-posting but I think it's also time to organize. Even though social media allows us to connect so much more, at the same time, it doesn't put bodies in place. And one thing from studying the civil rights movement that I've learned is that bodies matter.
Showing up with your physical body to a march, not being a Twitter activist. If you want to participate, write letters to the senator or congressman. I also think that now is the perfect timing because the administration has become so racially divisive, so anti-immigrant, so anti-female, and to show that 60 years ago Mrs. Rosa Parks was resisting and standing up for herself and for others, hopefully, is an inspiration to us today.
What do you think is the biggest lesson you learned while working on Behind the Movement?
I think I learned that I have a voice. I've known that I've had a voice but that we all matter. Just going to set and how you comport yourself at work and the energy that we all bring to creativity. The fact that everyone, from the extras to the grips were moved while making this film.
I think everyone thought this was an important story that even though we think we know, we do not know. Sometimes I wonder, does any of this TV and film really matter besides for entertainment? I think it re-emphasized that film and having a voice and telling stories and doing it with a lot of respect for the story and for your audience, that matters.
Behind the Movement premiered on TV One on February 11, 2018. Check listings for showings.