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The moving story of Wangari Maathai is not difficult see why it would make for a compelling biographical drama. A Kenyan political and environmental activist in the 1970s, she helped in the struggle to restore democracy for her country’s people, and faced great struggles in her efforts to build a free society, earning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. She lived through the Mau Mau uprisings as a child, later becoming the first East African women ever to receive a Ph.D. Recognizing the horrific environmental destruction occurring in her homeland, the cause for massive droughts and poor crops, she led a campaign to reforest the land, speaking at a United Nations conference on human settlements, advocating tree planting and the birth of the Green Belt Movement. Succumbing to cancer in 2011, she was a leader in women’s rights and has had profound effect on many throughout the world, though her name is almost unknown. A low-budget documentary was produced in 2008 called Taking Root, but this is a story that could make for a truly fascinating and inspiring movie.
Perhaps best known for her role on television’s Empire and Person of Interest, she has a great look and dynamic charisma that could resonate really well on screen in this part. She was cast in The Curious Case of Benjamin Buttons and Larry Crowne and is deserves for a leading role. The Wandgari Maathai story is a perfect fit.
The story of ‘the fastest man alive’ is no doubt already filled with great drama. Biographies of sports figures have traditionally made for box office glory, and the amazing tale of this Jamaican sprinter would surely be an exciting film. With numerous world records and ‘first evers’ to his name, the legions of competitors and rivals he faces would make for some thrills, but his start in his homeland as a cricket player, surround by a supporting family along with his less than serious side that made for some early controversies, would be interesting to learn more about. There are also setbacks, comebacks, letdowns, and triumphs that have all led to his staggering rise to fame and gift for competition, not to mention the story of his now famous ‘Lightning Bolt’ stance. While a poorly received Italian documentary was released in 2102, Bolt’s inspiring story will surely be made into a big budget films one day, and it’s a ticket we’ll get in line to buy.
He’s tall, athletic, and what a presence. Currently winning fans over as Jimmy Olsen on television’s Supergirl, Mehcad Brooks already showed his running prowess on his earlier TV hit Necessary Roughness. This guy is ready-made for the Usain Bolt story. Hollywood, make this happen.
“Black Like Me” by John Howard Griffin (1961) is an outside the box pick, but it illuminates Black History just as powerfully. Somewhere in the 50s, White America was still struggling with their own sense of guilt regarding slavery and the resulting inequality. A White journalist, John Howard Griffin, decided to “become” Black and go undercover within the community to see what it was like to be Black in the Southern States of America. He had to convince both sides he wasn’t a Black man. The writer underwent a painful process to dye his skin, involving heat lamps, chemicals, and makeup. It worked. He fit in – for better, or worse.
What Griffin learned was eye-opening. His book became a sensation. First, he needed to survive the process, but afterwards he also needed to withstand the backlash from racist Whites after publication. I won’t spoil everything this book illuminates, but I think it is still just as important today. Decades later, the world still struggles with acceptance and equality. It’s getting better, but there’s still a long way to go. A feature film adaption would help remind us of what it means to be Black in America.
Growing up, I didn’t hear much about this iconic memoir / social experiment. The most I knew was a spoof on Saturday Night Live, where Eddie Murphy went White faced in “White Like Me“. While that skit made us laugh, and taught us something along the way, the movie adaption would emphasize the drama. The most haunting moment from that book was when “Our Observer” notices a hierarchy in the “slums.” He watched as a black man ate scraps, then left his own scraps on the ground for another black man to eat. Perhaps this helped him feel superior in some way. However, it also clearly illustrates another point I will let you interpret yourself. This book is important for how it opened up the eyes of whites at the time who didn’t think there was any racism, or didn’t realize the multitude of disgusting effects of segregation. “Black Like Me” is reprinted to this day and also available in audio formats. An adaptation of the book was made into a film in 1964 with James Whitemore and Roscoe Lee Browne. Time for an update, Hollywood.
The author was a tall and strong family man. The casting of this role would have to be carefully attended to, due to the sensitive nature. A comedic actor trying drama would not work here. I think Matt Damon might be able to fulfill the transformation requirements as well as the compassionate and dramatic elements. Damon’s name could also help a controversial, yet intimate, movie like this get made.
This Hall of Fame athlete played basketball for the Boston Celtics during the incredible win streak in the 60s (8 consecutive titles). This movie would be more than a simple sports story. This would also focus on social injustice. Although segregation was beginning to fade, Bill Russell played for a racist fanbase who despised him. Despite winning more NBA Championships than any other player ever, he never won a Finals MVP. An odd memorable stat was when the losing team had the MVP instead of the Hall of Fame center. Basketball looked different back then, with squads consisting mainly of whites. Traveling across the country, the whole team couldn’t always eat in the same restaurants or sleep in the same hotels. There was a real divide. Russell was the best player in the league, but his home crowd hated him. Fast forward decades later and the Finals MVP is now called the Bill Russell Award. Now, he is recognized as the legend he is, considered to be one of the NBA’s best players ever. Players like Shaquille O’Neil, Kobe Byrant, and Michael Jordan were legends because they won 5 championships, whereas Bill Russell has more rings than fingers.
Since Russell is nearly 7 feet tall, the casting would either be limited or filmmakers would have to film this like Peter Jackson handled Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings (aka forced perspective). While Russell’s story is filled with drama and emotion, the man himself is always grinning to this day. He’s a joker and a master storyteller. There needs to be a balance of acting along with athleticism. I would consider lesser known talent like Shameik Moore from Dope, but would love to see an unknown actor become Bill Russell. Bonus role: Someone else gets to play the rival, Laker legend, Wilt Chamberlain.
Born around 1797, as Isabelle Baumfree, she became a traveling preacher by the age of 43, and changed her name to Sojourner Truth. Her story isn’t driven by religion though. Her history is tied with the abolitionist movement and early women’s rights activism. This enigmatic figure was sold at an auction when she was 9 years old. She cost a flock of sheep and a $100. Her master was a violent man who also sexually abused her. Sojourner had 13 children, but most were sold into slavery. She escaped in 1826 with one of her children, but had to leave the others behind. Eventually, she taught herself English, moved to New York City, and got involved with the Abolitionists. While I learned of this amazing historical figure in college, Sojourner’s Truth should be told to us all in grade school.
Sojourner is most famous for a stirring 1851 speech she gave in Akron, Ohio called “Ain’t I A Woman.” While she had the burden of being both black and a woman, she talked proudly about the actual power all woman have. She spurred a movement with her words. Listen to Kerry Washington’s emotional rendition of this immortal speech in the YouTube video above.
Other notable events include her involvement with the Abolitionist Movement and interaction with Frederick Douglas, meeting with Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War, earning blacks the right to fight in war and earn their freedom, as well as her court battles challenging the legality of her son sold into slavery. There is a statue in the US capital remembering this incredibly strong and gutsy woman. Sojourner’s booming voice rang loud as she delivered her iconic words, the sound echoing through the wooden frames of the building and the foundation of history.
Kerry Washington delivers an impressive version of the “Ain’t I A Woman” speech; however, I think she is far too young. On that note, this role would probably require special make-up effects regardless of the actress. There are also other women like Alfre Woodard and Cicely Tyson delivering these famous words online. Should this be a movie, someone with power and gravitas would be best suited. Although Washington could be fantastic, Viola Davis could command the screen and convey the same domineering presence. There needs to be some sass, but Sojourner also needs to roll up her sleeves and show how hard a worker she really is, even at an old age.
This post written by Dan and David
What are some Black History moments or people you think deserve a film? Let us know in the comments below.