The story of the woman who began the civil rights movement by refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus has come to the small screen. “The Rosa Parks Story” follows Mrs. Parks throughout her life to that fateful night when she was arrested.
It also includes an all-star cast and a cameo appearance by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.”s son, Dexter Scott King.
“The Rosa Parks Story” begins as Rosa (Angela Bassett, “What”s Love Got to Do with It”) enters a school of young girls run by northern Quakers. She learns the basic rules of the South and how to behave as a lady. As a young woman she meets her husband Raymond Parks (Peter James Francis, “As the World Turns”) who falls in love with her at first sight. After they marry, the couple lives with Rosa”s mother and goes about its life in Montgomery. Rosa occasionally experiences flashbacks to her childhood when she witnessed racial discrimination against her family and friends. One day Rosa spots an old friend”s picture in the paper. The friend has become a leader in the local chapter of the NAACP. The organization encourages Rosa to join and make a difference in the community.
She begins to take action against the injustices of the South by resolving to pass the voters” registration test and by accompanying a group of children to the white branch of the library to check out books. All these events lead up to Mrs. Parks” refusal to vacate her seat to a white man because the white section on the bus was full. From the moment of her arrest, religious leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the NAACP form ways to fight back against their oppressors. Mrs. Parks” involvement tapers off during the bus boycott, but the movement was just gaining momentum.
Bassett as Rosa Parks is convincing except for her constant over-acting in certain scenes. Bassett continuously cries, whines and defends herself to everyone Parks meets. However, Peter Francis James as Raymond Parks is able to act as a devil”s advocate to Rosa when they discuss their way of life in the South without coming across as cynical. The cameo appearance by Dexter Scott King is powerful and telling of his father in the early days of the movement. He has captured his father”s tone and oratory skills that help place Rosa Parks in the midst of the birth of the Civil Rights Movement.
The climatic scene when Parks refused to leave her seat lacked emotion and looked similar to previous scenes. The more powerful bus scene came earlier when the bus driver insisted Rosa re-enter the bus from the back. When she reluctantly went out the front door in the rain the bus sped off and left her to walk the five miles home.
Another drawback of the story was the constant foreshadowing that attempted to convey that Rosa Parks was predisposed to start the Civil Rights Movement. At times, the supporting cast lectures no one in particular about the conditions of the South and Parks always insists things will be different one day. This emphasis takes away from the actual action of Mrs. Parks.
One positive aspect of story is that once the boycott begins, Rosa reveals herself as a woman with complicated feelings. This was a new concept for the story at this point. The refreshing look at Rosa Parks as a person lends a new perspective to her character. Unfortunately, the story ends abruptly at this time so any more insight is left up to the viewer.