One of the major ways our society honors and educates about the achievements of amazing people is through film. If you look at movies like Lincoln, Braveheart, Lawrence of Arabia, Walk The Line, Ray, Gandhi etc. you’ll notice two things: These movies are often expensive successes and they’re usually about men. Queen Elizabeth I gets a movie or two but the stories of women from history often go untold. But they are out there. They really are.
Screenwriting is a tough job and the lack of imagination from the people who hold the purse strings in Hollywood can be staggering and yet somehow some amazing stories manage to get told every year. If you’re a screenwriter digging for an epic biopic then let me do some preliminary research for you. Make a movie out of one of these stories.
1. Mary Fields
“Stagecoach Mary” was born a slave in 1832 and after the Civil War traveled to Montana where she did heavy labor and ended up running freight for the US Postal Service after shooting a jerk in the butt. She was the first African American postal employee and had a reputation for always being on time no matter how rough her remote deliveries were. She died in 1914 and never gave up her whiskey and cheap cigars. Someone make a movie about this woman!
2. Grace Hopper
Grace was born in New York in 1906 and rose through the ranks of the Navy to Rear Admiral. Early in her carrier she programmed the kind of computer that weighed 10,000 pounds and later developed computer languages that essentially allowed computers to talk. She was also very sassy and did some amazing TV interviews later in life. She was on Letterman and said she never watched the show!
Mary (a.k.a. “Mammy Pleasant” and “The Voodoo Queen Of San Francisco”) should have several movies, one for each wildly different account of her life. In one movie she’d be a slave stealer on the Underground Railroad, a cohort of John Brown, a force to be reckoned with in San Francisco political circles of the late 1800’s and a fighter of segregation. In the other movie she was born to a voodoo priestess and after several marriages where her ever-richer husbands kept dying she moved to San Francisco where she traded in financial gossip and ran a brothel where murder and blackmail were on order. Doing enough research to find out what was slander and what was true would be an amazing assignment to give yourself. Maybe it is one movie and the tale of a truly complicated historical figure might emerge. There are books about her and a Drunk History! Lisa Bonet is pretty great casting.
Not just for dollars anymore. This woman was actually fascinating. She was kidnapped and sold at 12 and then interpreted Shoshone for Lewis and Clark while pregnant and breastfeeding. She was the only woman on the expedition and her usefulness on the trip cannot be overestimated. Facts about her can be hard to come by but between the historical documents available and some basic human understanding there is an amazing movie to be made.
5. Sally Ride
I remember the first time I saw the Alien franchise I thought Ripley looked like Sally Ride. That made me very excited to see her kill Xenomorphs. Sally was born in 1951 and became the first American woman in space in 1983. That’s a whole movie right there. The story of becoming the first American woman in space. You have to include the scene where NASA engineers ask her if 100 tampons will be enough for the 7 days she’d be in orbit. But if you want to do a birth to death type story, her work as a physics professor and her programs to help inspire girls to pursue science and math deserve some screen time. The fact that she waited until her death to come out as a lesbian and that she was with her partner for 27 years is just the kind of fix to third act problems that biographical movie producers would kill for.
Honestly these are just five stories that came to me in under a minute with the arbitrary restrictions of being in the last couple hundred years and American. If you want to talk Queens or explorers or scientists or actresses or political activists from other centuries or continents your choices are practically endless.
The world is ready for movies about these women. The weekend of Oct 5th Gone Girl grossed $38 million. 60% of those ticket buyers were women. Annabelle made $37.2 million. Women were 51% of that audience. Women were wayyyy over half the opening weekend audience. We have market power. Imagine how much bigger the numbers would be if we were actually catered to.