by Raisa Habersham
Black women deserve to be celebrated. At a time where we have significant power and influence as consumers of entertainment, we still crave more stories representative of us. With the success of biopics focusing on legendary black leaders like Selma, we are reminded that it’s time we see more iconic Black women celebrated through cinema. With so many black women making strides in film and television—and honoring those who have come before them—coming up with this list wasn’t difficult. Here are a few of the women we’d like to see have their stories made on the silver screen…
1. Maya Angelou
There have been few storytellers as profound as Maya Angelou. From her moving poetry to the exactness she executed in her autobiographies, Angelou’s story is one that resonates with many. From the traumas she faced as a young girl to the multitude of professions she had before becoming one of America’s most celebrated and respected writers, bringing Angelou’s story on the silver screen would capture the true essence of her inspiring life, highlighting her literary valor and civil rights involvement.
2. Wilma Rudolph
Before Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Sanya Richards, there was Wilma. When it comes to Black female athletes, many are not known or discussed outside of the Williams’ sisters (who also deserve a movie), so it’s not surprising Rudolph is rarely mentioned these days. Rudolph, who overcame adverse challenges in her youth to become a track-and-field star, is the first African-American woman to win three gold medals during a single Olympic Games. Her story is an inspiring one for women both in and outside of athletics.
3. Ruby Dee
There have been many a story done on famous black actresses, but the grandmother of them all would be Ruby Dee. Dee—perhaps most known for her roles in A Raisin in the Sun, Jungle Fever, and American Gangster—was active in the Civil Rights Movement, with memberships in the NAACP and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Her dedication to the arts and political activism is an encouraging one for anyone, but especially those who want to pursue the arts and still make a difference.
4. Harriet Tubman
Many are familiar with the story of Harriet Tubman, but the legendary abolitionist’s biopic is long overdue. Tubman worked endlessly to free slaves along the Underground Railroad and was an ally in the women’s suffrage movement. While Tubman’s impact is discussed every February and March, few know the intricate details on what made her dedication to the freedom of enslaved blacks possible.
5. Mary McLeod Bethune
A champion for education, Bethune’s story is one for the books… and the big screen. The educator founded what is now Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach, Florida and served on the Black Cabinet for President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Bethune also founded the National Council for Negro Women, an organization dedicated to improving the lives of Black women. Bethune’s dedication to education and uplifting black women speaks to the spirit of black feminism and sisterhood.
6. Madam C.J. Walker
As the first self-made black woman millionaire, Walker’s story is one to behold at a time where black female entrepreneurs are increasing. Walker’s empire is a testament to the level of success black women can achieve, even while living in a society which works tirelessly to suppress us. While her accomplishments certainly aren’t underappreciated, a biopic telling of how Walker started and grew her business would definitely inspire upcoming black female entrepreneurs.
7. Shirley Chisholm
Shirley Chisholm is perhaps best known as the first Black woman to run for president in the U.S. Chisholm’s political rank allowed her to create social justice and educational programs in New York. Her fearlessness in tackling the political world resonates with the dynamic leadership we’ve been seeing in contemporary activists and organizers like Patrisse Cullors, Opal Tometi, and Alicia Garza. Her story would most assuredly encourage more black women to enter the political sphere and challenge those outdated ideologies that no longer need to be in practice.
8. Zora Neale Hurston
If Maya Angelou’s pen glided with beauty and grace, then Zora Neale Hurston’s zigzagged through your heart. The Renaissance writer didn’t shield her portrayals of black Southern life, much to her peers’ disdain. Hurston’s most famous work, Their Eyes Were Watching God, still resonates with many today, but the author’s impressive life is known to few. A Hurston biopic would show that for every Maya, there’s also a Zora – and both deserve celebration and acknowledgement.
9. Mae Jemison
You rarely hear about black women’s accomplishments within the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), so Jemison’s biopic would undoubtedly highlight the injustices black women face entering into a white male dominated field. Many don’t know that Jemison served in the Peace Corps and upon leaving NASA, she founded her own technology-based company, Jemison Group. Jemison continues to advocate for minorities entering into STEM professions.
10. Angela Davis
Given Davis’ repertoire in the Civil Rights Movement, a story on her life is long overdue. Davis voiced her displeasure with the prison industrial complex and was a proponent of women’s issues. Not to mention, so much of her can be seen in the black women currently marching for justice and equality. Davis’ story serves a complex telling of how black womanhood is often challenged by social infrastructure. Her story mirrors what many black women in academia and activism face daily. Recently, Halle Berry has expressed interest in telling the activist’s story – and we’re hoping this comes to fruition soon.
11. Ida B. Wells
The black press is largely ignored even with increased coverage of racial disparities between whites and blacks. And it was certainly no different for Ida B. Wells. Wells covered lynchings in the South, venturing to tell the stories of blacks that were ignored by white media. Wells’ investigative pieces led to anti-lynching campaigns, as her involvement with the civil rights and women’s suffrage movements increased. Wells’ journalistic background would shine on the silver screen, showcasing the bravery she exhibited in tackling a subject many shied away from.
12. Hattie McDaniel
Hattie McDaniel is the first African-American to win an Academy Award. But outside of this fact, little is known about her life. As with many actresses, McDaniel was pigeon-holed into playing stereotypical roles for black women and criticized for it. A member of Sigma Gamma Rho, McDaniel wasn’t hesitant to show her support to black troops and aided in raising money for Red Cross relief programs. McDaniel’s film would serve as a testament to the challenges that all black actresses have dealt with while working in a racist, sexist industry.
Raisa Habersham is a regular contributor to For Harriet.