We obviously need a more well-rounded history education, not just in the United States but around the world. That means telling more stories of people who have been largely marginalized. Until that happens, it’s important to utilize months or specific time periods that are designated for history niches to help bring awareness to the narratives we need to hear more of, such as Women’s History Month. Women have obviously been a significant part of shaping the world, but again, we can do better when it comes to sharing those stories.
Biopics are a good way to deliver the stories and to pique interested minds to gather more information. Most of the biopics we see tend to center around men. However, we are starting to see more dynamic women’s lives come to the forefront. Whenever these films surface, they get us thinking about who else’s story we want to receive the movie treatment. Which brings us to: Eight phenomenal women whose lives and contributions should become a movie.
1. Cicely Tyson
We lost Cicely Tyson in January, at age 96—just days before the publication of her autobiography, Just as I Am: A Memoir. The book has been selling out since its release, but Tyson’s story deserves all the documentation, whether it’s a documentary film and/or a scripted motion picture. Tyson, who was born and raised in New York City, began her career as a model after being discovered by a photographer from Ebony magazine. Eventually, she blazed a trail in TV and film by not accepting roles that she felt were demeaning to Black women. Over the course of her career, which spanned more than seven decades, she received several awards including multiple Emmys, a Tony, an Honorary Academy Award, a Peabody Award, and more. In 2016, she received the Presidential Medal of freedom, the highest civilian honor in the United States.
Tyson continued working until her time on Earth was done, and she will remain one of the most phenomenal women to have ever graced the stage, the screen, or planet Earth. Black Hollywood, especially Black actresses, owe her a great deal of gratitude for the groundwork she laid so that those coming after her could break into an industry that is still challenged when it comes to diversity and balanced portrayals of BIPOC.
2. Missy Elliott
You can’t have a discussion about women who have blazed trails in hip-hop and R&B without mentioning Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott. From a young age, growing up in Portsmouth, Virginia, the singer/rapper/songwriter/producer extraordinaire knew she wanted to be a performer. She overcame hardships such as witnessing domestic violence and experiencing sexual abuse to become one of the most prolific musicians in modern music. Elliott has been in singing groups and worked as a solo artist with production credits for Beyonce, Jodeci, 702, Ginuwine, Mariah Carey, Aaliyah, and more under her belt.
3. Queen Latifah
The New Jersey native has come a long way from Newark. She was introduced to the world as a witty, conscious woman who meant business. As a triple threat, she sang, rapped, and acted her way toward icon status with some tragedy along the way. Queen Latifah has been vocal about how hard she worked to gain respect in hip-hop and the entertainment business, as well as her struggles with depression after tragically losing her brother. These days, Latifah is starring in a TV reboot of The Equalizer and executive producing television and film projects. She was most recently a producer on Lifetime’s Salt-N-Pepa biopic, but it’s time for her story to hit the big screen. Her autobiography, Ladies First: Revelations of a Strong Woman, was released in January 2020. It’s the perfect blueprint for what her film could be.
4. Mary J. Blige
The Queen of Hip-Hop Soul was at the forefront of a movement that gave way to singers like Ashanti, Keyshia Cole, and the overall concept of fusing hip-hop with soul in a way that wasn’t New Jack Swing. Mary J. Blige is doing a lot more acting these days, but the Oscar-nominated chanteuse-turned-thespian and executive producer (she teamed up with Queen Latifah and Missy Elliott to produce The Clark Sisters biopic) has lived a storied life full of cautionary tales that she has been open about through the years. It’s time we watch her life be immortalized in film.
5. Eartha Kitt
Eartha Kitt started her career as a member of Katherine Dunham’s dance company but also made a name for herself with her unique voice. She forged a path as a cabaret singer with songs such as “Let’s Do It”, “Champagne Taste”, and “C’est Si Bon.” She was fluent in four languages including her native English, German, Dutch, and French—the latter in which she often sang due to her many years performing in France. She went on to have a successful career in music, TV, and film and became the first African American woman to play Catwoman in the 60s TV version of Batman.
Kitt’s career took a detour in 1968 when she was blacklisted by Lyndon B. Johnson for making anti-war statements at the White House. She was also targeted by the CIA who spied on her (like they did with many of her contemporaries such as Muhammad Ali, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, and others). Following the drama, Kitt moved to Europe where she was able to perform, but she returned to the United States in the late 70s and reignited her U.S. career. She was introduced to new generations of fans, appearing in plays, TV, and film throughout the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s. She was even a spokesperson for MAC Cosmetics in 2007. Eartha Kitt died in 2008 at 81, but mutha had lived and influenced generations of performers including Diana Ross, who credited her own look and sound with the Supremes to Kitt.
6. Pam Grier
Pam Grier has stated that her biopic is in the works and that she hopes that Idris Elba can play her grandfather. That was a few years ago, but movies can take a while sometimes. In the meantime, there’s her autobiography, Foxy: My Life in Three Acts. Grier shares details about growing up in a multi-ethnic military family (Black, Native American, and Filipino) and living in North Carolina, Colorado, and overseas. How she was into riding horses and the rustic lifestyle before she was recruited into the pageant world and then movies. While some of her home life was stable, Grier was, unfortunately, the victim of child molestation by a cousin, which caused her to go mute for several years following her trauma. Then she was raped multiple times by different men as an adult.
7. Whoopi Goldberg
Born Caryn Elaine Johnson and raised in New York City, Whoopi Goldberg is a multi talented EGOT—a title bestowed on a very small group of entertainers who have won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony. One of her media influences growing up was actress Nichelle Nichols who played Uhura on Star Trek. Goldberg was fascinated by Uhura, a Black woman who wasn’t playing a maid or another stereotypical character. It showed her that a career in entertainment could be possible for her. It also led to her becoming a lifelong Star Trek fan. Goldberg went on to land a recurring, guest-starring role on Star Trek: The Next Generation as well. But long before Goldberg would boldly go, her film breakthrough came in 1985 as Celie in the film adaptation of Alice Walker’s novel The Color Purple. From there, she landed several classic roles in theater and film, including Sister Act, Sister Act 2, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (a 2003 revival of August Wilson’s play), and more. These days she’s a co-host on The View where her clap back game is still sharp. Goldberg has lived a life not without drama and full of lessons to be learned.
8. Ida B. Wells-Barnett
Ida B. Wells-Barnett was born into slavery, just a few years before the end of that heinous institution was declared. She became a prominent journalist, activist, wife, mother, and researcher who rose to fame in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In a lot of ways, she was America’s first career woman. She never let relationships or having children (she eventually had four) stop her from the work she intended to do. It’s also important to note that she had her last name, Wells-Barnett, hyphenated after marrying a man named Ferdinand Barnett. This made her one of the first American women to hyphenate her last name after marriage.
Wells-Barnett used her skills as a writer to document the conditions of African Americans living in the South, particularly the terrorism inflicted by white mob violence through lynching. She openly confronted white suffragettes (including Susan B. Anthony) who ignored lynching and racial violence. She battled a profound amount of sexism, racism, and violence due to her outspoken nature. However, she still traveled internationally to speak to audiences about the atrocities that African Americans faced and made space for Black women in liberation talk that often left them out. She co-founded the NAACP—though her name wasn’t mentioned officially—but she later left after not agreeing with how it operated. In short, Wells-Barnett laid the groundwork for the radical, outspoken Black women we know and love today who are still often labeled as difficult for daring to not be silent about their suffering.