Rosa Parks biopic: Writer Katrina O’Gilvie talks researching the woman behind the legend

Photo credit: Behind the Movement/TV One via MPRM Communications
Photo credit: Behind the Movement/TV One via MPRM Communications /

Katrina O’Gilvie started out by researching Rosa Parks through the mother of a friend. That tale soon grew and developed to gain the true woman behind the legend and the movement.

Behind the Movement is the inspiring and shocking tale of Rose Parks and the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s in the United States. When writer Katrina O’Gilvie was approached by Karen Peterkin from TV One about the idea of the biopic, she was eager to get started.

She soon found herself delving into more information about the iconic Rosa Parks. Known for refusing to give up her seat on a bus, Parks is viewed as the catalyst for the Civil Rights movement. This brave woman quickly became the catalyst, but there are many rumors and misconceptions about the real lady behind the movement. That’s something O’Gilvie set out to correct.

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"“I loved the idea from the start. The first thing I did was call my best friend’s mom…and asked her to tell me everything she could. She was part of the movement and had recently written her own book about her experiences as a female foot soldier and that’s where my research, actually began.”"

A movie that was originally supposed to be about one day became about four days. It took two weeks of research to learn more, getting first-person accounts through a friend’s mom, delving into books and articles, watching interviews and documentaries and even calling the churches. After that came the treatment, which was very different to the initial plan.

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"“I had to hope that TV One would take this on because…we had a 24 hours clock we were originally thinking of. The meat of the story happens in the four days, so it became a different type of ticking clock and there were far more characters than anybody really realized.”"

This is something actor Isaiah Washington pointed out during the round-table interview. His character, Edgar “E.D. Nixon,” has often been forgotten about in the movement. O’Gilvie made sure that he was included in the story, along with Jo Ann Robinson and Raymond Parks.

Photo credit: Behind the Movement/TV One via MPRM Communications
Photo credit: Behind the Movement/TV One via MPRM Communications /

Fortunately, TV One did understand the true importance of the characters and the story. They approved the change and then it was up to O’Gilvie to find the rhythm and the dialogue.

Fans of history will be happy to know that there is very little in the way of fictional elements to the show. Unlike shows such as VikingsThe Tudors, and Reign, O’Gilvie hasn’t just taken the research for some inspiration to start her tale. This is a story about the real people. There’s enough excitement and drama in the real story.

O’Gilvie does understand why a lot of writers will add a lot of fiction into their historical tales. The research isn’t always there, but that wasn’t the case for Rosa Parks and the movement.

"“I think I made up like three scenes, and I don’t even know that they are even in the movie anymore…What I loved getting notes back from the network saying ‘Oh, we love this scene’ and I was like ‘That wasn’t me; that really happened.'”"

While it did mean little fiction, it still wasn’t easy to do. There were certain iconic characters that she found difficult to write. One of those was the legendary Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. At one point there were requests to have him speak more in Behind the Movement, but O’Gilvie didn’t really want that to happen.

Photo credit: Behind the Movement/TV One via MPRM Communications
Photo credit: Behind the Movement/TV One via MPRM Communications /

Another character she struggled with was Rosa Parks. She found it hard to capture Parks’ character as a person and not the figurehead of the movement that she is viewed as.

When it came to the end of the interview, O’Gilvie shared her hopes for the movie and her final thoughts. She hopes that this will help to move people and encourage individuals to stand up for injustice.

"“Everyone who…finds injustice in the world…has a responsibility [personally and as a writer] to try to make change. We all sit by and watch it…we won’t make change; we won’t get what we need out of life; we won’t be able to contribute to the world that we live in. We are…being affected by this new administration and it is a wake-up call for many people that you cannot sit idly by and allow injustices to continue.”"

In the end, everyone involved in the movie believed that this was a story that needed to be told and commended O’Gilvie on her spectacular ability to bring the true story of the woman behind the legend to life.

Next: 10 greatest movies on controversial figures

Are you excited to see the real story of Rosa Parks told? Is the Civil Rights movement one close to your heart? Share in the comments below.

Behind the Movement airs on TV One on Feb. 11 at 7/8c on TV One.