If “history is written by the victors,” as that noted Winston Churchill quote goes, than culture’s role in preserving history is making sure that the extraordinary true stories of our time highlight a bland series of interchangeable white men whose lives all follow the prestige biopic outlines, crucial details be dammed. It has gotten so bad that the same two boilerplate British genius biopics with awkwardly handsome British actors playing fascinating men were virtually interchangeable in this year’s recently concluded Oscar race. Can you name what film Eddie Redmayne got the Oscar for? Or was it Benedict Cumberbatch? Who knows, right?
#Filmherstory, a new Twitter hashtag started by female critics and filmmakers Lexi Alexander, Miriam Bale, Shaula Evans, and Cat Cooper, is providing a nice counterbalance to the ever-boring narrative of the biopic about a white guy who did something by highlighting a range of women across eras, countries, and ethnicities who led incredible lives; the sort that could make for an incredible film or documentary (and in some cases, even a book). It’s heartening to see just how many of these women deserve to be memorialized and remembered, and it’s also equally dispiriting to realize the sheer amount of amazing women whose lives linger on the edges, reduced to just a Wikipedia entry in some cases. Keep an eye on the hashtag: #FilmHerStory will be going on throughout March, in tribute to women’s history month, and we highlighted a few of our favorite fascinating women below. Trust us, it was an impossible list to cull down.
Wait, this tweet is legitimately kind of mind-boggling to think about:
It’s also inaccurate, as there was a television miniseries from 1978 called A Woman Named Moses starring Cicely Tyson that is on DVD. It’s surprising to know, however, that there hasn’t been an Oscar-bait motion picture about Tubman’s life: she was born into slavery, escaped, spent 11 years rescuing about 70 slaves in 13 journeys, played a crucial role in the underground railroad, worked as a spy for the Union during the Civil War, was a hero… and yet her biggest mention in a film in recent years was through Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter? Wow.
Oh, just a cool lady spy and native New Zealander who was number one on the Gestapo’s most wanted list and led French armies against the SS, to much success. If a man had done all that, some wan actor would have an Oscar by now, and that’s a fact.
It could be Watson and Crick and Franklin in a perfect world. Franklin’s research on X-ray diffraction images of DNA led to James Watson and Francis Crick doing their work to discover the building blocks of DNA. She was erased from history — Watson is on record as saying that her work was integral, and that she deserved the Nobel prize — but a film from her perspective could show how her brains and obsession changed the world.
No big deal, you just wouldn’t have any idea of what punk was if it wasn’t for the hugely influential and seminal work of Westwood. Let’s have a biography of her meeting with Malcolm McLaren, working at their punk boutique — which had the name “SEX,” at one point — styling the Sex Pistols, and terrifying all of England with the idea of “Anarchy in the U.K.”
Opened the first birth control clinic in the United States, got arrested, went on trial, fought for safe abortions, started the first clinic that eventually became Planned Parenthood. She wasn’t a saint, either; she had controversial views on eugenics and race that people are still arguing about today. Easily the most interesting figure in Jill Lepore’s The Secret History of Wonder Woman book from last year, and a story of Sanger could embody all the contradictions of the time.
Sister Rosetta Tharpe
Who invented rock music? Does Sister Rosetta Tharpe come to mind? The musical prodigy was doing new things with guitar riffs in the 30s and 40s, making gospel swing and leaving a legacy that influenced innovators like Chuck Berry and Little Richard.
Anna May Wong
The first Asian-American actress to get international recognition, Wong had a long career, starting in silent films, moving to Europe to get better roles, working in Hollywood’s early films with sound, until she lost the lead in an adaptation of Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth to a German actress, Luise Rainer. Rainer would go on to win the Oscar, and Wong fell out of the public eye. But she deserves to be remembered, and a biopic could be a fascinating look at what Hollywood demands from minority players.
Countess Hélène de Pourtalès
She was one of the first women to participate in the summer Olympics. A Swiss sailor, she traveled to Paris and was a gold medalist in racing. Would make for a heck of a sports story.
Annie J. Easley
We need more girls who code, and Annie Easley was a pioneer who worked for NACA and NASA as a rocket scientist by sheer dint of her smarts and brilliance in a time where it was difficult just to get an education. She ended up receiving her Bachelor’s in Science in 1977, even as she helped shape our rockets and shuttles.
Plenty of films about muses, sure, but how often do we get to see the full life story of a woman who had layers beyond serving as an artist’s inspiration. Miller apprenticed to Man Ray, modeled for him, did work on his images, and then established her own studio in New York. When World War II broke out, she was on the front lines as a war photographer, creating indelible images for LIFE Magazine. One of the most fascinating women ever.