11 Black Women Whose Lives Deserve Feature Films

Yesterday we learned a Lorraine Hansberry biopic is in the works, and, of course, you've heard the furor over the upcoming Nina Simone film. It's hard to believe that the lives of their game changing women still haven't been properly brought to life onscreen. They're just two of countless others whose lives deserve commemoration on screen. The For Harriet team came together to come up with a few more stories we'd love to see.

Madame CJ Walker
Madame C.J. Walker was the first American woman self-made millionaire. She accomplished this during the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries when discrimination was rampant and political and economic rights were uncertain. Not only was she was an astute businesswoman, but she was a philanthropist famous for her giving. At a time when we’re trying to bolster HBCUs’ flagging budgets and encourage alumni donations to fill the gaps, she gave generously to establish these universities. Madame C.J. Walker is a role model with contemporary relevance and would be an inspiration to young women everywhere.

Charlotte Hawkins Brown
Brown would be an integral part to the education of Black girls during the early 20th century through the establishment of an all girls boarding school in North Carolina. Driven by her own zeal for education and understanding of the need to shape women who would go on to become educators, Brown opened the Palmer Memorial Institute in 1905. Not only was Brown active with the development of the Institute she erected, but Brown was also heavily engaged in other community grassroots organizations. Brown was the first African American woman named to the national board of the YWCA.

Angela Davis 
 From the top of her iconic afro to the tips of her toes, Angela Davis stands as one of the most influential black women in the American civil rights movement. Apart from the excellent insight a biopic would give into Davis’ involvement in the development of the Black Panther party as well as the infamous Soledad Brothers Trial, a showcasing of her upbringing and life as a young black woman studying abroad in France would be interesting to see. A film displaying Davis’ various endeavors would illustrate the importance of a balance between real life engagement and academic knowledge as a means towards creating real social change.

Betty Davis
The second wife of jazz singer, Miles Davis, Betty Davis was a American funk singer in the mid 70's who was known for her sexually-driven, female empowered music. An extremely wild 23-year-old, Davis was born in North Carolina and moved to New York in her early 20s. She was very influential to Miles music and her songs exemplified the feminist era. Song like "Don't Call Her No Tramp" and "He Was A Big Freak" led to religious groups protesting her work. Her music didn't find large commercial success, but her life in the 70's would be very interesting, especially her suspected affair with Jimi Hendrix that led to the end of her marriage with Miles.

Stagecoach Mary Fields
Stagecoach Mary Fields was a fierce woman of the west truly giving meaning to the United States Postal Service’s unofficial motto: “Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their rounds.” She rode in the west after having been a slave for 30 years in Tennessee. She was most noted for her toughness. She was heavily armed at all times (and had a very good shot), drank, handrolled her own cigars, punched men half her age, never lost any mail, nor was she late delivering mail driving through the wild west of the Montana territory. Her unconventional lifestyle and self-reliance is not only an inspiration but would make for quite the adventurous soaring Western epic that blacks (up until Django Unchained) and women don’t usually receive.

Althea Gibson
She has been referred to as the "Jackie Robinson" of tennis. She broke barriers in all-white sports by becoming not old the first Black Woman but the first African-American to compete in Grand Slam tennis tournaments. She crossed race and gender barriers by winning Wimbledon, French Open, and the US Open in the mid-1950s.

Pam Grier
Also a North Carolina native, Pam Grier is an American actress known mostly for her roles in many blaxploitation films in the 70's. Overcoming rape as a child, Pam Grier became known for her fierce female lead roles as well as having, what many call, a "perfect physical form." She had an 18 month affair with Richard Pryor and is described by Director Quentin Tarantino as "one of the first female action stars." She gave black women, who didn't really see many black female heroines in film, someone to look up to.

Zora Neale Hurston
The Harlem Renaissance writer influenced many future Black female authors. She wrote originally and realistically about her experiences as a Black Female. Many of her works became classic American novels and are read in American History and Literature classrooms to this day.

Miriam Makeba
A South African songbird with a penchant for civil rights participation, Miriam Makeba was one of the first artists to make African music popular on the international stage. Also known as “Mama Africa”, Makeba’s pivotal role in the campaign against the South African apartheid system sets her apart from many other black female artists on the African continent and in the world. Among her other marriages to talented musicians and public figures, it would be especially interesting to see a biopic that gives insight into Makeba's marriage to Stokely Carmichael of the Black Panther Party, a union which demonstrates an important linkage between the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa and the civil rights movement in America.

Sonia Sanchez
Sonia Sanchez is author to an impressive body of work (poetry, children's books, plays and anthologies). A poet and activist, Sanchez's life spans the Black Arts Movement, Black Power Movement, Civil Rights Movement and beyond. She is celebrated for social justice work and vast oral history telling.

Carrie Mae Weems
Carrie Mae Weems has used her work, most specifically her photography, to capture a wide range of issues that are relevant to the representations of Black women in American society. Not only have her photographs grappled with issues of racism, beauty, and sexism, she has used herself as the subject of many of her photographs in order to convey her stance. As a Black female visual artist, Weems’ life is so compelling because she has allowed her work to capture a wide range of issues that are central to the lives of Black women in America.


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