Strong female protagonists were highlights of two movies that I have seen this year. First, Zootopia, where the protagonist was a she and there were many other strong female characters. Most recently, The Queen of Katwe, the true story of a young woman from the slums of Uganda who becomes a chess champion, featured several very strong female characters including the protagonist. This is actually a rarity in movies. According to the Center for the Study of Women in Television & Film, in 2015, in the top 100 grossing films, only 22% of protagonists were women. The statistics are not anywhere near parity for female directors, producers, writers and many other slots within a movie’s personnel requirements. In this article, I write about significant women characters in movie history. Match the woman with her accomplishment:
____ 1. The first African-American to win an Oscar, she and all of the black cast members in Gone With The Wind could not attend the movie premiere due to segregation laws.
____ 2. Imbuing her characters with strength, she garnered twelve Academy Award nominations and received four Best Actress Oscars.
____ 3. “America’s sweetheart” during the era of silent films, she was a founder of United Artists and of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
____ 4. The first African-American woman to win the Best Actress Oscar (2002).
____ 5. Called “Little Miss Miracle” by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, she received a special Oscar in 1934.
A. Mary Pickford
B. Shirley Temple Black
C. Hattie McDaniel
D. Katharine Hepburn
E. Halle Berry
“America’s sweetheart” and silent film star, Mary Pickford became an institution unto herself. A founder of United Artists and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, she was an actress, producer and screenwriter. Pickford began her entertainment career at age five on the stage where she was known as “Baby Gladys (her given name was Gladys Mary Smith). She appeared in many short, silent films, making 40 in 1909. Pickford became an international star due to her beauty and charm. Many of her films were with the female producer, Frances Marion. Her first “talkie”, Coquette, earned her an Academy Award. She became a producer after acting in her last film in 1933.
A leading actress during the Great Depression, when she was a young girl, Shirley Temple Black made her screen debut when she was three years old. Enrolled in dance classes when she was 3 ½, Black appeared in her first feature film when she was six years old. Her song and dance routine to the tune of “The Good Ship Lollipop” in the 1934 movie Bright Eyes, earned her a special Academy Award for “Outstanding Personality of 1934.” Called “Little Miss Miracle” by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, for raising morale during the Great Depression, Black was later a diplomat and Ambassador. She received the Kennedy Center Honors and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Screen Actors Guild.
The first African-American to win an Oscar, Hattie McDaniel found the constraints on the roles she could play due to her race quite confining. Although she received significant recognition for her traditional role as Mammy (a house slave) in Gone With The Wind, McDaniel and the other African-American cast members could not attend the Atlanta premiere of the movie due to segregation laws in effect in 1939 in Georgia. McDaniel had begun her career in vaudeville and then appeared on the radio. Her first film appearance was in 1934. Later in her life, she returned to radio as the star in The Beulah Show. McDaniel has been featured on a U.S. postage stamp and has been inducted into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame.
Over a more than six-decade career in the movies, Katharine Hepburn imbued her female characters with strength. The daughter of a suffragist, born in 1907 before ratification of women’s enfranchisement through the Nineteenth Amendment, Hepburn overcame the tragic death of her brother to garner twelve Academy Award nominations and four Best Actress Oscars. Her first film, in 1932, A Bill of Divorcement, led to a long-term contract and the first of her Oscars just one year later. Although viewed by many as quite unconventional, Hepburn has been ranked as the top American screen legend of all time.
The first African-American woman to win the Best Actress Oscar (2002), Halle Berry’s entertainment career resulted from her participant in beauty pageants followed by time spent as a model. She appeared in television before her breakout role in the 1991 Spike Lee movie Jungle Fever in which she played a drug addict. Her role in Monster Ball as the wife of a prisoner on death row, resulted in her Oscar. She continues to act in movies and in television and was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2007.
Learn about more she-roes and celebrate amazing women. These women from the movies are among the more than 850 women profiled in the book Her Story: A Timeline of the Women Who Changed America. I am proud to tell women’s stories and to write them back into history.
(Answers 1-C, 2-D, 3-A, 4-E, 5-B)