Angela Bassett brings out complex layers of humanity in CBS’ “The Rosa Parks Story,” a tasteful and stylish biopic as much about love and inspiration as it about the birth of the Civil Rights Movement. Amazingly, production marks the first time Parks’ story has been told onscreen and comes with the full cooperation of Parks and the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development.
Filmed with director Julie Dash’s impeccable visual sensibilities and based on Paris Qualles’ emotional but straightforward script, “The Rosa Parks Story” should be considered required viewing. From a historical point, the seminal moment on Dec. 1, 1955, when Parks defied a white bus driver who demanded she give up her seat for a white passenger led to the most effective nonviolent protests in American history with the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott.
But in the course of Parks’ life, the event was just the latest in a number of indignities and racial injustices. By telling her story in flashback, we watch as the quiet resolve grows within Rosa, spreads to those around her and evolves into a movement.
Bassett takes her physical strength and turns it inward to portray Parks. In lesser hands, the subtleties of Rosa’s personality could be misinterpreted or grossly underplayed. As it is, this flesh-and-blood account is award-worthy material.
Peter Francis James performs similar magic with his role of Raymond Parks, who has lived with the repercussions of fighting adversity and just about loses faith until Rosa’s love and determination brings him back to their marriage and the cause.
Supporting roles are also well characterized, especially Van Coulter as E.D. Nixon, president of the Montgomery NAACP, who was a champion at fighting racism, if not sexism. And you know you have a powerhouse cast when the unparalleled Cicely Tyson is relegated to a tiny but highly effective role.
Dexter Scott King appears briefly in a nice and surprising unobtrusive bit of stunt casting as his father, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Technical credits are flawless, with director of photography David Claessen and production designer Mayling Cheng making great use of the Montgomery scenery. Editor Wendy Hallam-Martin maintains perfect pace while Joseph Conlon provides nostalgic music for the film.