Women’s History Month- 10 Inspiring Women Who Deserve Their Own Biopic

By Bianca Garner

For this Women’s History Month, I have decided to focus on creating some top ten lists which discuss films, biopics and documentaries about women in history that will hopefully inspire and inform readers about the accomplishments of women throughout history. For this piece I am focusing on ten women who deserve their own biopics and will be discussing who I think should star in the film, who could possibly direct the film and why their stories deserve to be seen on the big screen.

Grace Hopper (December 9, 1906 – January 1, 1992), computer scientist and United States Navy rear admiral. Notable achievements: One of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark I computer and a pioneer of computer programming who invented one of the first linkers. 

At the age of just seven years old, Grace Hopper was dismantling alarm clocks to see how they operated. Hopper’s interest in geometry and mathematics saw her eventually studying her doctorate at Yale University. Her original plan was to become a professor but she didn’t receive the satisfaction from this type of profession, so made the decision to join U.S. Navy Reserve. Her computing career began in 1944 when she worked on the Harvard Mark I Team on their programming staff. By 1949, Hopper was a senior mathematician at the Eckley-Mauchly Computer Corporation and joined the team developing the UNIVAC. The UNIVAC was the first known large-scale electronic computer in the 1950s. 

Hopper had the idea to implement a new programming language that would use entirely English words and eventually worked on the COBOL. COBOL stands for Common Business-Oriented Language and was a computer language for data processors that used English as a means to direct a computer’s actions instead of using just code.

Who could play Grace Hopper in the inspiring biopic of her life? Well, with a career that span over forty years the best approach to take would be to have Grace being played by two or three different actresses to represent the different stages of her life. Maybe Amy Adams, Natalie Portman or Emily Blunt for the earlier stages of her story and then someone along the lines of Glenn Close or Frances McDormand for the mid/later stages of her career?

In regards to female filmmakers who would be suited to this project. Well, someone like Kathryn Bigelow could be a perfect fit for a picture like this. Bigelow has proven that she’s suited for the historical genre with her 2017 film “Detroit” and of course she’s had success with action/war films with the likes of “The Hurt Locker” and “Zero Dark Thirty“. Another filmmaker who could be suitable for this project is Marielle Heller who has proven that she is a perfect fit for the historical genre with her films “The Diary of a Teenage Girl”, “Can You Ever Forgive Me? ” and “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”. Heller has stated that she is drawn to stories about “human beings trying to navigate through the world.” so I have a feeling that Hopper’s life would really appeal to her.

Althea Gibson (August 25, 1927 – September 28, 2003), tennis player and professional golfer. Notable achievements: the first African American to win a grand slam title

 There’s no denying that Althea Gibson faced some great challenges in her life, she was born in 1927 just before the Great Depression hit and at an early age her family moved to Harlem as part of the great migration. Her father’s abusive behaviour meant that she left school at just thirteen years old and spent time living in a home for abused children. Gibson was naturally gifted at tennis, and by the age of twelve she was was the New York City women’s paddle tennis champion. Despite the racism of the time, Gibson’s reputation saw her be recognised and supported by many within the sporting world.

In 1956, she became the first African American to win a Grand Slam title (the French Championships). The following year she won both Wimbledon and the US Nationals (precursor of the US Open), then won both again in 1958 and was voted Female Athlete of the Year by the Associated Press in both years. In all, she won 11 Grand Slam tournaments: five singles titles, five doubles titles, and one mixed doubles title. Gibson was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame and the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame.

Honestly, I’m surprised that the story of Althea Gibson hasn’t already been adapted for the big screen, it’s such a shame that in 2021 her story hasn’t been told yet. If anything this sad realisation again proves that racial equality still has a long way to go in Hollywood. If you want to see how dire the situation is in Hollywood then I recommend you check out the Women and Hollywood statistics here which paints a miserable picture.

To help rectify this issue, I think this biopic is an absolute must. In terms of actresses who could be suited for this role, I could see the talented Zazie Beetz being a perfect candidate. Or perhaps, the equally wonderful Amandla Stenberg? In terms of filmmakers, I would love to see Ava DuVernay work her magic. Or maybe even Kasi Lemmons?

Junko Tabei (22 September 1939 – 20 October 2016), mountaineer. Notable achievements: the first woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest and the first woman to ascend the Seven Summits

As an avid climber myself, I am shocked that I am unaware of Junko Tabei’s achievements. She was the first woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest and the first woman to ascend the Seven Summits, climbing the highest peak on every continent. Tabei wrote seven books, organized environmental projects to clean up rubbish left behind by climbers on Everest, and led annual climbs up Mount Fuji for youth affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake.

As a young frail child, Junko wasn’t expected to go on to become one of the greatest female climbers of all time. In fact, she originally planned to be a teacher. However, as an adult she decided to try her hand at climbing once again. There were some men who welcomed her as a fellow climber, but there were also others who questioned her motives for pursuing a typically male-dominated sport. Soon, Tabei had climbed all the major mountains in Japan, including Mount Fuji. By the 1970s, she was ready to take on Everest. When she was on the search for sponsors who her expedition she was told that “women should be raising babies” instead of climbing…! Still, that didn’t keep Tabei on the ground for long. on the 16th May 1975, she finally reached the summit of Everest.

Over the years, Hollywood has had a thing for films about climbing, see the likes of “Free Solo”, “Touching the Void” or “Vertical Limit”. So surely, we could get this biopic greenlit quite easily, right? Focusing on Tabei’s 975 climb would be the major focus of the biopic, the part of her story where she had to crawl along a thin, hazardous ridge of ice towards the peak of Everest., would make for compelling cinema. In terms of actresses, unfortunately there is a lack of young Japanese actresses working in Hollywood at this present time, but both Lyrica Okano and Hayley Kiyoko maybe suitable candidates? The Japanese director Naomi Kawase could also be a perfect fit for this project. Or perhaps Chloé Zhao could be ideal for this film seeing as she has an eye for natural landscapes and her films have a documentary feel.

Valentina Tereshkova (born 6 March 1937), politician,  engineer, and former cosmonaut. Notable achievements: the first and youngest woman to have flown in space with a solo mission on the Vostok 6 on 16 June 1963. 

Valentina Tereshkova had no desire to become cosmonaut. Before her selection for the Soviet space program, Tereshkova was a textile factory worker and an amateur skydiver. Chance had it that Nikolai Kamanin, director of cosmonaut training, had read in American media that female pilots were training to be astronauts. In his diary, he wrote, “We cannot allow that the first woman in space will be American. This would be an insult to the patriotic feelings of Soviet women.” Tereshkova joined the Air Force as part of the Cosmonaut Corps and was commissioned as an officer after completing her training. As she had no previous military training, her space training also consisted of training included isolation tests, centrifuge tests, thermo-chamber tests, decompression chamber testing, and pilot training in MiG-15UTI jet fighters.

It was on the 16th June 1963, that Tereshkova set off on her first solo mission. With a single flight, she logged more flight time than the combined times of all American astronauts who had flown before that date. Her mission was used to continue the medical studies on humans in spaceflight and offered comparative data of the effects of space travel on women. Although Tereshkova experienced nausea and physical discomfort for much of the flight, she orbited the earth 48 times and spent 2 days, 22 hours, and 50 mins in space. After her spaceflight, Tereshkova became a national and international role model. She received “congratulatory telegrams and letters… from around the world.” These telegrams express the impact that Tereshkova had on other countries, outside the Soviet Union. For example, in New Delhi, Tereshkova was a “feminist standard bearer bringing a message of hope for ‘enslaved’ Indian womanhood. Although she desired to continue pursuing a career as a cosmonaut and engineer, her superiors had a different plan for her in politics.

For years we’ve had space films focused on telling the stories of male cosmonauts whether it be “The Right Stuff”, “Apollo 13” or “First Man”. Films about women’s achievements in space have been few and far between, although highlights include “Hidden Figures”, “Gravity” and “Arrival”. The story of Tereshkova would be fascinating to see on the big screen and could make for a compelling visual delight. In terms of actresses who could play Valentina Tereshkova, I could totally see Florence Pugh or Anya Taylor-Joy being a perfect fit for this role. In terms of female filmmakers Alice Winocour would be a perfect fit due to her 2018 film “Proxima” which also dealt with a woman’s journey into space. Or there is the director Mimi Leder who has had previous success with the sci-fi action film “Deep Impact”, could she return to space?

Komako Kimura (1887–1980), Japanese suffragist, actress, dancer, theatre manager, and magazine editor

On October 27, 1917, twenty-thousand suffragists marched on Fifth Avenue in New York City demanding the right to vote. One of those suffragists was Komako Kimura, a prominent Japanese suffragist and actor.  Kimura, along with Mitsuko Miyazaki and Fumiko Nishikawa, started a lecture series and magazine for women (May 1913-Sep 1923), both called Shin Shin Fujin (New Real Woman). 

As a young girl, she went to a school founded by Junko Takezaki, where girls were not only encouraged to learn and become good, traditional Japanese wives and mothers, but also how to “be personalities.” She was inspired by male thinkers like Goethe, Byron, Maeterlinck, Wilde, and Emerson, after studying them in school. She was also greatly influenced by the ideas of Ellen Key, a Swedish feminist. Komako Kimura was controversial in her time for her defiant actions both in her theatrical life and in her work to advance the women’s suffrage movement. Komako Kimura created the movement entitled “The True New Women’s Association” (in Japanese Shin-shinfujinkai) in 1912. In her first publication of the magazine, Komako described how she did not just want to change the law and give men and women equal rights on paper. Her goal was to educate women to be strong willed and thoughtful feminists who are provided with an education equal to that of men, and no longer have to refer to the men in their lives to make decisions for themselves.

She was in America to gain inspiration from American women, whom she admired due to the fact that they could use their clothing and makeup to express themselves as individuals. She criticized Japanese society for forcing conformity onto women by making them take an hour to do their hair and clothes, then be unable to move unencumbered throughout the day, due to the restrictive nature of traditional Japanese clothing.

“The New True Woman” magazine lasted until January 1918, before it was suppressed by the Japanese government. This suppression also extended to her public lectures, and she was no longer permitted to hold meetings in public areas. When she was put on trial, she acted as her own defence, and did so so well that instead of hindering her cause, the government unwittingly promoted it, as her message was spread via the trial, making her fight for women’s rights and suffrage known throughout the country. Komako Kimura’s writing, speeches, and performances were integral to the Japanese suffrage movement, which culminated in the 1945 change of election law that allowed Japanese women to vote.

In terms of actresses for this extraordinary role, I could see the likes of Japanese actress Ai Hashimoto, who is a model turned actress. She first came to attention for her role in the 2010 film “Confessions” and has starred in the TV show “Hard Nuts”. The drama earned her numerous prestigious awards including the Yokohama Film Festival, the Kinema Junpo Award, and the Japan Academy Prize. Another contender could be the actress Ayami Nakajo, who has a Japanese mother and a British father and was also a model before pursing a career in acting.

Maud Stevens Wagner, (February 1877 – January 30, 1961), American circus performer. Notable achievements: the first known female tattoo artist in the United States

Maud Wagner was an aerialist and contortionist, working in numerous traveling circuses. She met Gus Wagner—a tattoo artist who described himself as “the most artistically marked up man in America” while traveling with circuses and sideshows. She exchanged a romantic date with him for a lesson in tattooing which just goes to show how in touch she was with her own feminine charm. It wasn’t all just about business, as there must have been an instant spark with the two, as they later went on to get married. Together they had a daughter, Lotteva, who started tattooing at the age of nine and went on to become a tattoo artist herself (talk about following in her mother’s footsteps).

Personally I can totally see Helena Bonham Carter in this role. I’m surprised that the story of Maud Stevens Wagner hasn’t already been made into a film by the likes of Tim Burton seeing as it ticks all the right boxes for a typical “Burton-esque” type of film. Although, I would love to see a film made about Stevens Wagner’s life, I think we should have a female filmmaker tell this incredible story rather than someone like Burton who has already made his mark in Hollywood. Maybe Bonham Carter should try her hand at directing? Or perhaps the direction of Mary Harron could work for this biopic, seeing as Harron has experience directed biopics as demonstrated by her film “The Notorious Bettie Page”. I think having some animated scenes of Wagner’s tattoo creations coming to life and talking to her would be totally cool so maybe someone like Marjane Satrapi could be a better fit for this project, seeing as she embraced the surreal with her 2014 black comedy “The Voices”.

Marina Ginestà (29 January 1919 – 6 January 2014), Veteran of the Spanish Civil War, and a member of the Unified Socialist Youth and CNT. Notable achievements: Became the “face” of anti-fascism in the Spanish Civil War

Ginestà was born in Toulouse, on 29 January 1919, into a working-class leftist family that had emigrated to France from Spain. She moved to Barcelona with her parents at the age of 11. Ginestà later joined the Unified Socialist Party of Catalonia. The famous photograph was taken on 21 July 1936. It shows the 17-year-old Ginestà wearing an army uniform and posing with a rifle on the top of the original Hotel Colón. The picture was taken during the 1936 military uprising in Barcelona. The rifle that Marina is holding is a M1916 Spanish Mauser, manufactured at the Oviedo factory in Spain for the Spanish Army. Because she was a reporter, it was the only time Ginestà had carried a gun. The picture was soon published in the a socialist newspaper. The picture later exploded in popularity due to the representation of the Spanish Civil War and is a now universal image of anti-fascism and conflict.

Despite her initial involvement she quickly grew disillusioned with the path that the Stalinists were taking. Marina remained a militant throughout the rest of the war and was drawn to other groups at that time such as the anti-Stalinist P.O.U.M (which the famous writer George Orwell was a member of) and the Anarchist C.N.T. Before the end of the war, Ginestà was wounded and evacuated to Montpellier. Marina did not knew about the photo until 2006, although the iconic image was printed and circulated everywhere, serving as cover for the book “Thirteen Red Roses” by Carlos Fonseca, and was also along with dozens of other photographs in the book “Unpublished images of the Civil War” (2002).

For the role of Marina, I could see “Hanna” star Esme Creed-Miles being a suitable candidate for this incredible true story. Or perhaps, Hailee Steinfeld or Maisie Williams might be a perfect fit for this role. In terms of directors, I think this project could be a perfect fit for Claire Denis, as she has a certain unique approach to filmmaking. For example, she sometimes places her actors as if they were positioned for still photography. Seeing as the story of Marina is about the power of photography, this could be ideal for Denis to work her magic.

Maria Teresa De Filippis (11 November 1926 – 8 January 2016), an Italian racing driver. Notable achievements: the first woman to race in Formula One.

De Filippis was born on 11 November 1926 in Naples, Italy, the youngest of five children of an Italian Count and a Spanish mother. As a teenager she was a keen horse rider and tennis player. She began her racing career at the age of 22. Two of her brothers told her that she would not be able to go very fast, goading her and making a bet that she would be slow. She won her first race, driving a Fiat 500 on a 10 km drive. She went on to drive in the Italian sports car championship, finishing second in the 1954 season. Seeing her potential, Maserati brought her in as the works driver. De Filippis took part in various motor racing events, which included  hill climbing and endurance racing. In 1956, she was given the chance to drive in Formula One. She finished second in a sportscar race supporting the 1956 Naples Grand Prix, driving a Maserati 200S.

The 1958 Belgian Grand Prix allowed all drivers to compete with no cut-off for a qualifying time. De Filippis qualified in last place, nearly 34 seconds off Tony Brooks’ pole position time. Although she was lapped twice in the 24 lap race she managed to finish, albeit in 10th and last place after nine other cars failed to finish. This would prove to be her only race finish. At the following race, the French Grand Prix at Reims-Gueux on 6 July 1958, de Fillipis was unable to compete. She claimed in her 2006 interview that the French race director said “The only helmet a woman should wear is the one at the hairdresser’s” and that he prevented her from taking part.

1958 was a tragic year in Formula One with the death of several drivers. Porsche team leader Jean Behra died in a racing accident on 1 August 1959 while driving in the sports car support race for the 1959 German Grand Prix at AVUS. De Filippis was supposed to drive at that event and was devastated by deaths of several friends during her time in the sport and especially that of Behra. She left the circuit and turned her back on motor racing for 20 years.

For this biopic I could see the likes of Alexandra Daddario, Alicia Vikander, Elisabeth Moss or maybe even Rooney Mara getting behind the steering wheel? In terms of directors, maybe Gina Prince-Bythewood could be a perfect fit for this film, as she’s quite experienced with sports films and action flicks. If Elisabeth Moss was attached to this project then maybe she could team up with director Reed Morano who directed the pilot episode of “The Handsmaid Tale”, she is a cinematographer turned director so I could see her fully embrace a story like this with the opportunity to shoot some stunning racing sequences.

Ellen O’Neal, (1959-2020?) freestyle skateboarding icon

As a teenager in the 1970s, O’Neal was one of the biggest stars in skateboarding. O’Neal grew up in San Diego. She danced ballet, and did gymnastics. Then she got into skateboarding, she began entering competitions all over the west coast. This was during a time when it was still a male dominated sport. O’Neal was so good that she managed to beat many of her male peers.

“Everything I do at freestyle contests I learned from the unidentified hot-kids in my neighborhood,” she told a magazine called The National Skateboard Review in 1976. “These are kids that could dust some of the kids that show up at meets all the time, but they just want to keep their riding fun.”  She ended up starring in “Skateboard: The Movie”, and in an episode of “Wonder Woman”. O’Neal was also featured in a documentary called Skateboard Kings that tracked a lot of the original Dogtown crew.

In my research, I couldn’t determine whether or not O’Neal had passed away or not. There was a piece written here in October 2020 which stated that she had sadly died. There also appears to be a real lack of a proper biography about her life so I can’t determine her birth date. This is a sad reflection on how women have been virtually written out of history or have been ignored by the history books.

The story of Ellen O’Neal could be a cool genre pic, full of comedy and awesome stunts. Can you imagine the soundtrack to the film? You could include “Cherry Bomb” from the Runaways, “Call Me” from Blondie as well as so many other classic from the 70s/80s era. I can picture the likes of Thomasin McKenzie from the excellent “Leave No Trace” and “Jojo Rabbit” rocking the skateboard in this biopic of Ellen O’Neal’s life. Or Chloë Grace Moretz would be a suitable candidate for the film. Both actresses have proven that they can easily adapt to any genre whether it’s action, drama or comedy. In terms of directors, well, Catherine Hardwicke has already proven that she knows the world of skateboarding with her 2005 film “Lords of Dogtown” so she may be a perfectly suited for this project. However, there is also the likes of director Crystal Moselle who directed the 2018 film “Skate Kitchen” or maybe Patty Jenkins who proved that she can re-create the 80s asthenic with “Wonder Woman 84” so maybe she could travel back a decade and work her magic with the 1970s?

Simone Segouin (born 3 October 1925), French resistance fighter who served in the Francs-Tireurs et Partisans group. Notable achievements: Assisted in the capture of 25 Germans in the Chartres area

Segouin was born in Chartres, France, and grew up alongside three brothers. Her father had been a decorated soldier during World War I. She attended school until the age of 14, at which point she began work on the family farm. In an interview with Jack Belden, published in Life magazine in 1944 under the headline ‘The Girl Partisan of Chartres’, Segouin and ‘Lieutenant Roland’ (Roland Boursier) explained that Segouin’s involvement with the Resistance arose after the two met when she was 17. The lieutenant instructed her in the use of a submachine gun, and introduced Segouin to other members of his group. In order to join the Francs-Tireurs et Partisans, Segouin obtained false identity papers, which established her as Nicole Minet.

Segouin began by acting as a messenger and carrying out other small jobs, and later became more actively involved after participating in a successful ‘train-exploding expedition’. Segouin was present at the liberation of Chartres on 23 August 1944, and the liberation of Paris two days later. She was promoted to lieutenant and awarded the Croix de Guerre. Segouin gained international notoriety when photographs of her by American photographer Robert Capa were published in Life weeks after the capture of 25 German soldiers in which she took part.

I could easily see “Stranger Things” actress Millie Bobby Brown being a perfect fit for the role of Segouin. Or maybe “IT” star Sophia Lillis playing the role. Both young actresses have a certain spirit and determinism that they share with Segouin. In terms of directors, well, I think the wonderfully talented French director Céline Sciamma could be ideal especially seeing as her films often focus on feminine identity and strong rebellious female characters. Another French director who could work their magic could be Mia Hansen-Løve. Hansen-Løve’s films mostly revolve around familial and romantic relationships and Segouin went on to have six children with Roland Boursier (the couple never married) and I think their relationship could be fully explored in the biopic.

Have you come across an extraordinary woman who deserves to have a Hollywood biopic? Let us know in the comments below.

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