By Risasi Dais
On the afternoon of Sunday, February 21, 1965, Malcolm X was prepared to deliver an address to The Nation of Islam at The Audubon Ballroom. But as he approached the stage, he was assassinated before a crowd of hundreds of people, including his pregnant wife, Betty Shabazz and three of their six children.
Over the years the world has seen several plays depicting the incredible life and tragic assassination of Malcolm X, also known as El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz. However, playwright Marcus Gardley has created a powerful play entitled “Betty Shabazz vs The Nation,” about the assassination and the tumultuous landscape of ideology and activism of the 1960s.
In this imagined trial, Betty Shabazz accuses the Nation of Islam for the assassination of her husband. With each witness called to the stand by Betty (the prosecution) and Louis Farrakhan (the defense), audiences visit the poignant memories of key characters in Malcolm’s life, each testimony shedding new light on one of America’s most complex and controversial historical figures.
Betty Shabazz, wonderfully played by Chelsea Williams, is shown as the prosecutor relentlessly seeking answers to the murder of her husband Malcolm X. Jimonn Cole, as Malcolm X has a striking resemblance to the man that former FBI Director, J. Edgar Hoover once called “the most dangerous man in America!” Jonathan-David gives a magnificent depiction of Louis X. He later was given the name Farrakhan by the Honorable Elijah Muhammad the leader of the Nation of Islam.
Joshua David Robinson plays Brother Eugene X, head of Malcolm X’s security. He accompanied Malcolm to Mecca and later was discovered to be an informer working for the FBI and the New York Police Department. In the play Brother Eugene X rushes to Malcolm X ‘s body immediately after he was shot by assassins at The Audubon Ballroom. William Sturdivant is excellent as Honorable Elijah Muhammad capturing his specific speech, nuances and slow walk aided by a cane.
Malcolm X was suspended from the Nation of Islam for 90 days for speaking publicly, saying “The chickens have finally come home to roost” following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Brother Louis X (Farrakhan) is depicted as undermining his teacher, Brother Malcolm X and is shown feeding negative comments to Honorable Elijah Muhammad saying to his leader, “Malcolm is disrespecting you. He wants your position. He’s planning a trip to Mecca without your permission.” Continuing he says, “We must silence Malcolm for good!—to save our people and our faith!” These comments set in motion theassassination plot. Later in another scene, Brother Louis X comments, “People always ask, ‘Did Muslims kill Malcolm?’” He answers the question in an arrogant tone. “What if we did? We know that Malcolm has a brain, yet it was the Nation that filled his brain with knowledge and wisdom.”
In the play, the Black nationalist leader returns as “The Ghost of Malcolm X” which states, “I have no venom for those that killed me.”
The play shows Malcom X becoming disenchanted after learning that his leader impregnated several of his young secretaries as he expresses his anger yelling “ Elijah is not Allah!”
There is also a scene in the play where Malcolm X met with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Dr. King tells Malcolm X, “Brother they will not stop until they kill you. Why don’t you come to Montgomery and hide out for a while?”. Malcolm did not comply with Dr. King’s offer. He is reported to have said, “Dying is another way of living.”
After seeing the play, Illyasah Shabazz, one of the daughters of Betty Shabazz and Malcolm X, commented “I thought that the entire play was excellent. All the actors were great. I thought that the playwright and the director really humanized my father and mother, however watching this play conjured up many emotions in my soul from laughter to sorrow. Immediately after seeing the it, I left the theater shaking because it was that powerful and profound.”.
This riveting play was performed at The New Victory Theater on 42nd Street in New Yok City for only six performances,March 17-25th.