Take Them To The Big Screen: 10 Black Women Who Deserve A Biopic

August 4, 2014  |  
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I’m going to be straight up and ask an honest question here: Where are all the good biography films pictures on black women?

I’m not trying to start nothing – actually I’m okay and cool with starting stuff – but I have to say I’m not really impressed with the selection of biopics lately. The TLC, while full of gossipy tidbits, was ultimately a huge dud. So was the Winnie Mandela biopic entitled Winnie (which is available on Netflix but I would skip it). And excuse me for being presumptuous but I don’t have high hopes for either of the proposed Aaliyah projects. And I certainly won’t be supporting the Zoe Saldana/Nina Simone travesty, if ever that sees the light of day.

Perhaps it is the subject or the productions themselves, but Hollywood (inclusive of Black Hollywood too) really doesn’t attempt to immortalize Black women as it does Black men. This is particularly true of the big screen productions. In fact, it seems the majority of biopics on Black women are actually made for television, and by default, have all the cheese and camp of a film made for television.

As such, I have created a list of ten women, who would make awesome subjects for a well-produced and funded film production. Also so Hollywood doesn’t go casting Madonna as Rosa Parks, I’ll also include a list of women, who I believe would good fits for the roles.

Diana Ross

Seriously, why shouldn’t there be a film on this Supreme (get it?) being? She has been noted as an influence among entertainment heavyweights like Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston and Mary J. Blige. Besides her musical talent, she is also known for a few scandals in her personal life, including a secret child (to be revealed on an episode of Oprah) with Motown CEO Berry Gordy and a very public arrest for Driving Under the Influence.

But in spite of all of her achievements, including a Tony, a People’s Choice and a handful of American Music Awards, Ross has never won a Grammy. Refuting that shade alone is reason enough for me to want to see her on the big screen.

Who should play her: Tracee Ellis Ross, of course. Duh!

Phyllis Hyman

With beauty and glam of ten Beyoncés and a voice that memorized like no other, a film about the late sultry crooner is long overdue in my most honest of opinions. In spite of being a favorite among the music industry insiders, her career would falter due to a failed marriage followed by a long-term struggle with mental illness and drug dependency until she took her own life just days shy of her 46th birthday.

Who should play her: Jill Scott, Marsha Ambrosius (who is almost a dead ringer) or Audra McDonald (known as Dr. Naomi Bennett in both “Grey’s Anatomy “and “Private Practice”).

Harriet Tubman

She gave us our freedom, why the hell not a film about her? And between the White washing and flat-out caricaturization of Tubman in Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter and the disrespect of her image by the Russell Simmons-backed “comedy sketch,” we need a film to both set the record straight and play proper homage.

Who should play her: Danai Gurira (“The Walking Dead”) as a young Tubman; Viola Davis as an older Tubman.


Mahalia Jackson

Recording 30 albums throughout her career, the Queen of Gospel has been influencing contemporary singers, both within and outside of the church, for decades now . However it was her work within the Civil Rights Movement, which has had the greatest impact on society including lending her voice in praise for a fundraiser to support the strikers of the Montgomery Bus Boycott and singing “I Ben Rebuked and I Been Scorned” at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

Who should play her: Honestly, I can’t see anyone else being able to physically pull off the role of Jackson but Queen Latifah. Plus she can sing – not as good as Jackson but enough to follow along with a pre-recorded track.

Shirley Chisholm

Unbought and unbossed, Chisholm was the first black woman elected to Congress and the first black person (period) to run as a major party candidate for president of the United States, receiving 152 ballot votes at the 1972 Democratic Convention. She was also an fierce fighter for women and women rights including the right to choose and equal pay. And encouraging the next generation of fierce fem-positive women (and men) is exactly the reason why we need to see her story played out on the big screen

Who should play her: Regina King or Camille Winbush (best known as Vanessa on The Bernie Mac Show and Lauren on The Secret Life of the American Teenager) would both be exceptional choices.

Zora Neale Hurston

Hurston is one of the most celebrated African-American novelists of the 20th century, publishing four novels including her most critically acclaimed novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, two books of folklore, an autobiography, numerous short stories, essays and even plays. She was also falsely accused of molesting a boy child (a fact that she proved without a shadow of a doubt was not true because she was in Honduras at the time of the alleged violation), which harmed her career. As a result, Hurston would die penniless in 1960s, even unable to afford a headstone for her own burial. Her grave would remain unmarked until Alice Walker would locate the grave in 1973 and reclaim it in her memory.

Who should play her: Aunjanue Ellis (best known as Madeleine on “The Mentalist” would physically kill the role.)

Miriam Makeba

Grammy award winner, who helped to take African music worldwide, Mama Africa is always revered in both her native South Africa and here in the States for her tireless dedication for the advancement of liberation for Black people including campaigning against apartheid South Africa, which got her banned from her own country. She was also married to both South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela and Stokely Carmichael, which is kind of bad ass.

Who should play her: This was a tough one and I don’t want to throw Lupita N’yongo in a role because she’s Africa (that would be racist), so I’m going to have to ride with Jennifer “Effie in Every Role” Hudson – and that is reluctantly as her accent in Winnie was absolutely horrible.

Lil’ Kim

Hip hop documentaries and films are gaining in popularity as Generation X journeys further into adulthood. And yet the true-to-life accounts of some of our most notable femcees are being ignored. From her colorful wigs to risque lyrics and outfits to ever evolving face, no other lady rappers has impacted the genre of music more than Lil’ Kim.

Who should play her: Well Naturi Naughton is an obvious choice, considering she played the role before, but I’m all in favor of giving someone else a chance. And since Azealia Banks is not doing much outside of tweeting people mean stuff, she could possibly pass as the old faced Kim and perhaps Christina Milian as the remodeled Kim. The later suggestion might make Kim herself happy considering she originally wanted Milian to play her in the Notorious film. Yeah…

Queen Mother Nana Yaa Asantewaa

She is not a household name but a powerful figure in history non the lest. As queen mother of Ejisu in the Ashanti Empire (now modern day Ghana), Asantewaa would lead the charge against the British Empire (even against other chiefs, mostly male, who wanted to surrender to the British) in a fierce battle, which lasted for several months. Only after the British called in reinforcements, to the tune of 1,400 additional men, were Queen Asantewaa, and the other warrior chiefs, captured and pushed into exile.

In spite of her shortened victory, Queen Asantewaa would be the last woman to lead an army in major war in Africa. She would also be remembered for (allegedly) giving this speech to the menfolk, challenging their manhoods and rousing them into action:


Now I have seen that some of you fear to go forward to fight for our King.

If it were in the brave days of Osei Tutu, Okomfo Anokye, and Opolu Ware, leaders would not sit down to see their King taken away without firing a shot.

No white man could have dared to speak to a leader of the Ashanti in the way the Governor spoke to you this morning.


Is it true that the bravery of the Ashanti is no more? I cannot believe it. It cannot be!

I must say this, if you the men of Ashanti will not go forward, then we will. We the women will. I shall call upon my fellow women. We will fight the white men. We will fight till the last of us falls in the battlefields.”


Who should play her: Uzo Aduba (Crazy Eyes on “Orange is the New Black”) would provide the gumption needed to play a woman able to command the respect of a room full of testosterone filled men.

Sarah Vaughan

We talk about Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald, but rarely do we talk about The Divine One also known by her government as Sarah Vaughan. And that is reason enough.

Who should play her: Naturi Naughton (best known as Lil’ Kim)


Teena Marie

Now y’all know I’m playing with this one but if Black passes were real, I’m willing to bet 90 percent of the Black community would be in favor of giving a lifetime membership posthumously to Lady T. Plus, Rick James, bitch!

Who Should Play Her: Jennifer Beals, Alicia Keys, Rashida Jones, Zendaya Coleman …honestly why biracial Black women aren’t cast in more as ethnic White woman is beyond me – also racism.


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