5 black women whose stories are ripe for the ‘Hidden Figures’ treatment

Give the people what they want, dammit!

CREDIT: Facebook
CREDIT: Facebook

Since its premiere earlier this month, Hidden Figures has earned critical acclaim and $60 million at the box office.

The movie chronicles the previously untold story of a team of black female trailblazers who worked for NASA during its Space Race with the Soviet Union. At the heart of the film is Katherine Goble (Taraji P. Henson), a mathematician whose understanding and creativity with numbers was integral to sending the first American into space. She’s joined by Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) — a complex algebra whiz and computer programmer — and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae), the first black woman to work as an engineer for the agency.

Despite their many contributions, the three women encountered gendered and racial bias while keeping their composure in a room full of domineering white men. They fought to prove their worth as the nation fought to prove its technological superiority. And the women were always one step ahead of their bosses.

From its soundtrack (produced by Pharrell) to the glistening tears that fall down Taraji’s flawless face, Hidden Figures screams #blackexcellence. And after a banner year for black men and women acting onscreen, and pulling the strings behind the scenes, it proves — yet again — that black storytelling isn’t just entertaining, but lucrative.

So where we do go from here?

The answer is simple. Hollywood should greenlight more movies about groundbreaking black women. Luckily for industry execs and movie lovers, there’s plenty of material to suit the needs of fans of every genre.

Here’s a list of contenders:

AP Photo/Donna Carson
AP Photo/Donna Carson

Mae Jemison (for space nerds)

If one thing is certain in Hollywood, it’s that a movie will be made about space every single year, until the end of time. With the success of Hidden Figures, the most logical next step is for someone to write and produce a film about Jemison, the first black female astronaut to go to space. In addition to traveling in the Space Shuttle Endeavor in 1992, she was an engineer, physician, and member of the Peace Corp. After her success at NASA, she became an educator and public speaker.

The movie writes itself.

Josephine Baker (for World War II film buffs)

I lied. If there’s anything truly certain about Hollywood, it’s that there will be a World War II movie, sometime between May and December, without fail, every year. I don’t want to go so far as to say these stories are stale — history is important! But instead of recycling battle choreography and tales of white men who got the job done, why not switch things up a bit and tell the tale of a world-renowned singer-dancer who doubled as a French spy?

Baker, AKA the Black Pearl, AKA Black Venus, did just that. Born in St. Louis, she took her talents to New York City, where she established herself as beloved entertainer on Broadway and inside the walls of Harlem Renaissance staples like the world-famous Cotton Club. By the time she was 20, she was a starlet in Paris, where she performed as an exotic dancer in La Revue Negre.

Nobody would’ve suspected that her career would thrust her into the world of espionage. But in the early 1940s, French Chief of Counterespionage Jacques Abtey recruited her to spy on unsuspecting military officials and double agents during her performances. She also used sheets of music to send encrypted messages to the French Resistance.

Shirley Chisholm (for fans of political drama)

Hillary Clinton was the first woman to secure a major party’s presidential nomination, but she was far from the first woman to seek the presidency. One of her predecessors was civil rights activist Shirley Chisholm.

Chisholm made her bid for the Democratic nomination in 1972, after serving her Brooklyn community as a New York City assemblywoman. In 1968, she had become the first black female Congresswoman in the United States. And during her seven terms in the House, where she fought blatant discrimination and hostility every step of the way, Chisholm ultimately co-founded the Congressional Black Caucus and Congressional Women’s Caucus.


Mary Fields (for fans of True Grit)

Few people have heard about Mary “Stagecoach Mary” Fields, the fearless slave turned missionary turned gun-toting mail carrier. But she was the first black woman — and second woman ever — to deliver mail for the U.S. Postal Service.

Considered a “cowboy,” Stagecoach Mary was known far and wide for her grit — specifically, for being a single woman who swore, smoked cigars, and downed alcohol like her male contemporaries. She loved to pick fights and bragged about her physical prowess to men who crossed her.

Her reputation has gained her the admiration of one of America’s most illustrious onscreen cowboys. “Born a slave somewhere in Tennessee, Mary lived to become one of the freest souls ever to draw a breath, or a .38,” actor Gary Cooper wrote of the Montana legend in 1977.


Marsha “Pay It No Mind” Johnson (for people who want & deserve a better Stonewall movie)

If you go by the whitewashed abomination that was Roland Emmerich’s Stonewall, you’d think that the 1969 uprising at Stonewall Inn was mostly led by white LGBTQ New Yorkers. It wasn’t. Marsha P. Johnson, a black trans woman, was front and center — never behind white cisgender men.

Witnesses say Johnson was one of the loudest voices when a police raid at Stonewall turned into a pivotal moment in history. Playwright and Stonewall patron Robert Heide would later say he “just saw her in the middle of the whole thing, screaming and yelling and throwing rocks and almost like Molly Pitcher in the Revolution or something.” Longtime friend, trans woman, and activist Sylvia Rivera said Johnson was one of “the street queens of that era” who started the rebellion.

Aside from her critical role in the uprising, Johnson was a drag queen and sex worker who went on to co-found, along with Rivera, the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, an advocacy organization that housed homeless trans women and drag queens. Before her mysterious death in 1992, Johnson also worked for the AIDS advocacy organization ACT UP.