Famed Harlem born artist and black feminist Faith Ringgold created a painting in 1971 called For The Woman’s House. Showcasing women in a variety of situations, it was designed to encourage women to see themselves in new and empowering ways at a time when options for women were limited. On the lower right corner of the painting, one of the women in the painting holds a book. If the viewer looks closely, it reads, “I knew someone had to take the first step. — Rosa Parks.” Rosa Parks would probably have particularly appreciated this artistic rendering of her lifelong ethos. Actress Meta Golding who plays Rosa Parks in the TV One production Behind The Movement, which premieres Sunday, February 11, sums up Parks’ life outlook as “Someone who was completely dedicated to civil rights and human dignity, and the movement.” TV One describes Behind The Movement as “a unique and fast-paced retelling of how Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat launched the history-making Montgomery Bus Boycott.”
The 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott is almost unanimously seen as the spark that set off the Civil Rights Movement. Though black people in Montgomery, Alabama made up approximately 75 percent of the ridership, they were routinely harassed and abused on the buses. For 12 years, Parks had avoided riding any bus driven by racist James Blake due to his prior behavior. Behind The Movement makes clear that on December 1, 1955, Parks was so distracted by the news about recently lynched teen Emmett Till, she boarded Blake’s bus mistakenly. Blacks could only sit in the “colored” section of the bus but drivers, including the notorious James Blake, would move the colored section further back at will. On this day, Parks had simply had enough and refused to move. The boycott lasted 381 days and ended with the Supreme Court ruling of Browder vs. Gayle, which did for public transportation what Brown vs. Board of Education had done for public schools.
TV One has put together a film that highlights the importance of disparate people coming together to strategize and sacrifice in order to bring about a greater good for all. Golding reveals, “The film is very concise, chronicling the events over the first three days of the boycott.” Originally, the bus boycott was supposed to last just one day, but community leaders decided to extend it and enlisted the persuasive talents of Martin Luther King, then a little-known preacher, to convince blacks in Montgomery to agree to boycott for the long haul.
Behind The Movement had a tight production schedule of just thirteen days in Atlanta this past December. Golding talked about working the grueling schedule with accomplished vets like Isaiah Washington, Loretta Devine, and Roger Guenveur Smith. “Everyone in this cast of very fine actors just came in and threw down. We had little time to rehearse. We had to just run and move and quickly as we could.” Though the shoot was tough logistically, it was also fulfilling. Golding who has also appeared in Hunger Games: Catching Fire and Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 recalls, “It was challenging shooting so quickly but at the same time I’ve never been on a set that was more heartfelt. You know, where extras would cry, where someone who had one line really felt the gravity of the story.”
Golding got involved when she received the script from TV One. She explains, “TV One wanted to make a movie for Black History Month and they decided to make a movie about Rosa Parks. The network developed it. I got the script and thought it was beautiful.” Though she had a limited amount of time in which to prepare Golding says, “Rosa Parks was quite a prolific author herself so I read everything that she wrote. I read every biography that was out there, everything I could get my hands on. I also read what some of her family members had written to get a sense of what she was like in private.” Golding also delved into archival video footage which she found helpful in, “getting a sense of how she carried herself.” The footage was not as valuable in giving an idea as to how Parks’ voice sounded.” Unfortunately, or perhaps, fortunately,” Golding says, “I had some leeway because in the public, her voice is not that recognizable.”
As much as Golding, who studied Political Science and Theater Arts at Cornell University, already knew about Parks, she was surprised at how deeply involved Parks had always been with social and political activism. Initially, she says, “I just knew she was a courageous woman who became the face of the civil rights movement but I didn’t really know anything else. What I did not know was that Mrs. Rosa Parks was a seasoned activist a decade prior to her refusing to give up her seat that day in 1955. She was an activist in the forties throughout Alabama when it was a very, very dangerous time. Eighty percent of the NAACP had lost their members. Lynchings and police brutality had become much more intense in the wake of WWII. It was during this time that Rosa Parks, as a young woman, was documenting the injustices that were going on.” Oprah Winfrey’s recent Golden Globe speech alluded to some of the work Parks did at the NAACP on behalf of Recy Taylor, a black woman who was a victim of racist, sexual violence.
For Golding, Behind The Movement, “humanizes” Rosa Parks. “I think it shows the human toll this type of work takes. Rosa Parks, in taking a stand, was much more vulnerable to hatred and violence than she was when she was working behind the scenes.” For all the recognition the American Civil Rights Movement has gotten, much of the actual planning and intellectual labor of the organizers are routinely glossed over. Golding believes that Behind The Movement sidesteps that mistake. She says, “It puts the spotlight on the inner workings and the intense preparation that it took to organize a boycott of 50,000 people in a matter of three days. This was a time when you had to convince people to resist because boycotting could mean you could lose your livelihood or even your life.” The movie also showcases important voices in the movement who are often overlooked such as president of the Women’s Political Council Jo Ann Robinson, played by Devine.
Behind The Movement, which was written by Katrina O’Gilvie, manages something else that is surprisingly rare. It centers an important historical event squarely as a black woman’s story. Golding says, “While we were shooting the Harvey Weinstein stuff had just broken so there’s so much going on in terms of women and women having a voice. It’s very much a tipping point. People want to express themselves and express the opposite of what we’re seeing in our culture.”