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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

question of the day: What untold stories about women deserve to be made as a movie?

My Week in Women column this week features a video in which 82 female filmmakers discuss what kind of film they’d make with an unlimited budget. It got me thinking about a script that I’ve been thinking about writing for years, a true story that was coincidentally in the news this week. I’ll repeat myself from TWIW:

Me? I would make a kickass epic about the American Women Airforce Service Pilots who flew planes in noncombat situations during WWII to free up the men for combat, and how much they loved their work even though they were treated like shit because they weren’t seen as “real” soldiers. I love this photo:

There women look industrious and confident and happy — they know they’re doing important, useful work, and they’re having the adventure of their lives doing it — and I’d love to make an epic movie about them that is A League of Their Own meets Band of Brothers, a movie that would portray them as complex, flawed heroes who died for their country (without even benefit of a military funeral)… but more frequently lived for it, and never got any thanks for or even acknowledgement of their work until just this month.

That photo has lingered in my mind for years, since I first saw it. It looks like a still from a great movie.

What do you think? What untold stories about women deserve to be made as a movie?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)

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  • Isobel

    I’d like to see more films about women in the Land Army and Fire Service during WW2. My Grandmother was in the Land Army and has such good memories of it, but she was only acknowledged (all surviving women from the Land Army were issued medals) for it a couple of years at the age of 91.

    There have been some books recently about the women behind/beside famous male figures and I’d like to see films of them (for example Joanna, the daughter of King John and wife of Llewellyn the Great). Or Eleanor of Acquitane – she had a pretty amazing life for a medieaval woman.

  • Brian

    I was going to suggest Hypatia, but it looks like somebody’s already done it – with Rachel Weisz, no less:


  • LaSargenta

    I’d really like to see your movie! That would be great. I remember seeing A Guy Named Joe with Irene Dunn and Spencer Tracy and thinking that that was the first time (and only time) I saw a movie with a WAFS member as a main character. I was pretty young, but it stuck in my head a lot longer than many other WWII movies just because of that.

    What untold stories about women deserve to be made as a movie?

    All of ’em.

  • mortadella

    Actually, Helena Blavatsky….she founded theosophy, which I don’t follow, but man….her life was so interesting and weird. She was a Russian noble woman who escaped her life in the east, traveled the world, and brought what we all now consider to be New Age interests to the west.
    She was part charlatan and part humanitarian. If she never existed, someone like Neil Gaiman or Alan Moore would have invented her.

  • LaSargenta

    Bluejay: Wow. Now that I did not know. Yeah, that would be a great story.

  • Kirk

    I think a biopic of Clara Barton is way overdue. From the First Battle of Bull Run to the siege of Petersburg to Andersonville Prison to the founding of the American Red Cross to working for Women’s Suffrage to… well the list is endless. This lady is the absolute embodiment of compassion, devotion, bravery and ceaseless labor for the injured and oppressed.

  • *Florence Nightingale
    *Clara Barton
    *Harriet Beecher Stowe
    *Harriet Tubman
    *A story about the women who did the mens’ jobs during the First World War — street car conductors, fire wardens — and then the women of the Fire Watch during the Blitz
    *Madame Curie
    *Annie Oakley (a drama, not the musical, though i love the musical — until the part where she *throws* the competition to save her man’s face. grrrrr!)
    *Oh so many…

  • MaSch

    Just throwing Lady Jane Grey in the ring. They say she read Plato for *fun*! Sounds like 16th geekiness to me.

    Then became queen of England – soon after killed. Just begs for a movie.

  • Henry

    Wow. What a great photo. Where did it come from?

  • A Guy

    Great picture! OK, I’m thinking:

    Natalie Portman (as the shy/lonely/homely one who gets a haircut and sassy new coveralls and nabs the super handsome top-gun pilot all the girls are drooling over)

    Gabourey Sidibe (as the cocky All American track star who leads the team on their big third-act combat mission)

    Paris Hilton (as the sexually aggressive one who’s actually brokenhearted about being left at the alter)

    Michelle Rodriguez (as the wise-cracking ethnic one who dies saving the rest of the team)

    Open it with a slo-mo pillow fight and I’m totally there on opening weekend!

  • How about Hillary Clinton? You could call it “Almost!”


  • misterb

    Maud Gonne has a great story – renowned as the most beautiful woman in Ireland, she was WB Yeats’ acknowledged muse, was imprisoned during the Irish resistance, starred in a play that started the rebirth of Gaelic studies, and was mother to a Nobel prize winner. And her personal life was packed with drama as well!

  • Kate

    The life of Virginia Woolf. Not like the clumsy and superficial The Hours attempted to, but a story about her growing up in the shadow of her Victorian patriarch family, suffering her first breakdown upon the death of her mother, moving with her siblings to Bloomsbury, and discovering that a new era had begun and becoming one of the movers and shakers of the 20th century. The movie should stress her being a pioneer of feminism, plus her pacifism, her political writings, being on Hitler’s kill list with her husband, and her eventual slide into her final breakdown and suicide.

  • How about the real story of Louisa May Alcott? Little Women is the cleaned-up version.
    Or the messy and tragic story of Anne Hutchison?
    The struggles and controversies surrounding Emily Stowe, the first female doctor in Canada?
    Julia Ward Howe, who wrote “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and her own battles against slavery and for women’s suffrage? (To say nothing of her abusive marriage?)
    June Callwood, whose long and complicated life was full of social justice and bitter misunderstanding?
    Mary Wollstonecraft and the remarkable achievements and passionate relationships of her short life?

    Plenty of dramatic fodder in these lives and so many others.

  • Don’t count Clinton out yet. Sec of State is a much better jumping off point to the Big Chair than the Vice Presidency.

    Eleanor of Acquitane was in one of the best movies about the Middle Ages ever made: Lion in Winter. A remake from her POV could start with her going on Crusade.

    Cary Grant once played a French officer who wanted to marry an American Army officer, but he kept running afoul of all these rules that assumed war brides had to be women. My favorite part was the endless search for a place to sleep, since the rules kept shifting him from dormitory to dormitory.

  • Parrish

    Violette Szabo, French resistance organizer and saboteur. Edured two months of torture and six months on a labor camp before being executed just three months before VE-Day. There was a film about her in the late ’50s (Carve Her Name With Pride), and she’s the basis for a video game released last year, but Braveheart-type epic would be awesome.

    Ayn Rand. Politics and philosophy notwithstanding, her story as a pioneering woman in a variety of fields is remarkable.

    Love that photo. I think these pilots may have just invented the thug strut.

  • t6

    I’m with Parrish on Violette Szabo. She was amazing.

    Nzinga the Queen King
    Madame CJ Walker and her daughter Alelia
    Dolores Huerta
    Loie Fuller and/or Isadora Duncan
    The Talmadge Sisters
    April Ashley or Christine Jorgenson

  • Der Bruno Stroszek

    Empress Theodora of Byzantium. There are contradictory rumours about what she did in her early life – some say she was a wool-spinner, the more salacious sources say she was a prostitute – but either way she went from being a nobody to the most powerful woman in the world.

    Lucy Renee Mathilde Schwob, who became famous for her confrontational Surrealist photos under the pseudonymn Claude Cahun. A Jewish lesbian living in Nazi-occupied Jersey, she and her partner dragged up as stormtroopers and distributed Allied propaganda at Nazi rallies. I can’t think of anything braver than that.

    Josephine Baker. Just because she was awesome, but people only know her as a sex symbol and she was a hell of a lot more than that. During World War II she faked her own death and went to work with the exiled French army in North Africa. At the end of the war she played a massive concert for the Allied troops which began with her descending onto the stage on wires dressed as an angel – most of the crowd still thought she was dead at this point. It was the first time she’d played to a racially mixed audience, and she made it a point of her contract after that never to play for segregated crowds again.

  • AJ

    Hedy Lamarr- speaking of WWII.

    Julia Child- let Meryl Streep have a whole movie to herself.

    Eleanor Roosevelt- a lot of people nowadays only see her as the homely wife of FDR.

  • Eric Dale Eubanks

    The female pilots is a terrific untold story. I scripted narrative material for an NEA-funded “White House Millennium Project” dance theatre piece [original score by Eric Alexander. –called “The Unsung”] centered on historical women in Georgia whose stories should-be but never-are told; one of which was Hazel Raines — who ended up being the pilot who trained many male pilots during WWII. http://www.georgiawomen.org/_honorees/rainesh/index.html

    Amy Howton, who choreographed the performance of composer Eric Alexander’s THE UNSUNG in Kennesaw GA, also emphasizes the interdisciplinary and collaborative aspects which Continental Harmony promoted. In addition to learning about the four Georgia women whom The Unsung celebrated, “the audiences also seemed to be excited by the layering of the art forms and the opportunity to explore dance as both parallel and entwined with the other arts,” Howton, the artistic director of Wings, the resident dance ensemble of Kennesaw State University, told Arts Wire.

    “Everyone worked tirelessly with the best interests of the finished piece in mind, even when that meant finding compromises and doing yet another reworking of a section,” Howton added. “As a result, the project created a wonderful experience for all the artists as they observed and participated in the creation of a multi-media art piece, thereby learning new things about the other art forms included in the work.”

    A story — about Hazel and/or ALL these extraordinary female pilots that should be told….

  • Beryl Markham — aviator, racehorse trainer, beauty — lived in Kenya in the 1920s and ’30s. Her memoir “West with the Night” is superb.

  • LaSargenta

    *BUMP* Hattie McDaniel deserves a Biopic. http://thehistorychicks.com/?p=4131

    And came across this: http://womenshistory.about.com/od/waramrevolution/p/ludington_ride.htm
    Sybil Ludington. Costume history-adventure-drama.

  • Bluejay

    *Bump* Another woman unfairly written out of history: Elizabeth Magie, the REAL inventor of Monopoly. I found this article fascinating.


  • Danielm80

    I want Sydney Padua to turn her Lovelace and Babbage comics into an animated* movie.


    Also, Nellie Bly deserves several movies. I may have mentioned that a few times.

    *My spellchecker thinks that “animated” should be “analyst mated.” I’m getting more and more convinced my spellchecker is trying to gaslight me.

  • Bluejay

    *Bump* I have no idea why I’d never heard of Julie d’Aubigny before now; but now I have.


    Apparently there was a 1966 Italian film about her, as well as a 2004 French TV series, but nothing beyond that. Time for a reboot!

  • Bluejay

    *Bump* Another candidate for a movie: Ruby Payne-Scott, pioneer in the field of radio astronomy, who kept her marriage secret (with the help of willing colleagues) so that she could continue with her work.


    The Overlooked series of obituaries at the NY Times are actually a great resource (scroll to the bottom of the article for past entries). I’d gladly see a film about any and all of these women.

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