We’ve barely scratched the surface of historical biopics centered on our Black heroes, heroines and everyday people. We’ve just done our list of who should play Angela Davis in the upcoming biopic helmed by Julie Dash. In honor of Black History Month, here are eight more Black historical figures that deserve the Hollywood treatment, as well as the actors and actresses who should portray them.
1) Emayatzy Corinealdi as Mae Jemison
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With the critical acclaim of films such as First Man and Hidden Figures, it boggles our mind as to why their hasn’t been biopic on Mae Jemison. Jemison is the first African American woman to travel in space when she went into orbit aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour on September 12, 1992. Resemblance aside, Corinealdi more than proved she can carry a film when she played the lead role of in Ava DuVernay’s indie classic Middle Of Nowhere. As Ruby, a registered nurse who must grapple with her feelings for a potential suitor while her husband serves an eight-year prison sentence, Corendali gives a star-making performance. In the right hands, a big budget or even an independent film about Jemison with Corinealdi would touch on all the right beats.
In 1961, Ed Dwight was chosen by the Kennedy administration to be the first African-American astronaut trainee. Soon after, the Kansas City native appeared on the covers of Ebony and Jet magazines. Dwight faced discrimination from other astronauts, but persevered until his resignation from the Air Force in 1966. Dwight broke more barriers as a sculptor, creating more than 100 public art sculptures around the country. Andre Holland, who is receiving rave reviews for his performance as Ray Burke in High Flying Bird, is our only choice to portray Ed Dwight in a biopic.
3) Regina King as Michelle Obama
This is a no-brainer. Fresh off of her Oscar-nominated performance as Sharon Rivers in If Beale Street Could Talk, Regina King is pretty much everyone’s choice to portray Michelle Obama if a biopic on America’s First Lady ever comes to fruition. Keep in mind, King is also a master director. Adapting Michelle Obama’s best selling biopic, Becoming, into a feature film, with Regina King directing herself in the lead, and you have a recipe for greatness.
4) Rutina Wesley as Assata Shakur
Political prisoner Assata Shakur became a high-profile member of the Black Panther party when, in 1973, Shakur was arrested during a traffic stop in New Jersey. A shootout ensued, which left the freedom fighter wounded and a state trooper dead. Shakur was ultimately blamed for the shooting and convicted of first degree murder in 1977. However, Shakur escaped from prison and fled to Cuba, where she was granted asylum by Fidel Castro in 1979 and has lived ever since. Known for her role as Tara on True Blood and Nova Bordelon on Queen Sugar, it’s downright criminal that Rutina Wesley has not had a lead role in a major Hollywood motion picture. A biopic on Shakur with Rutina Wesley in the lead role would be the perfect star-making vehicle.
5) Kimberly Elise as Cicely Tyson
Known by many as The Great Dame of Black Hollywood, Cicely Tyson opened the doors for many of our faves including Viola Davis. Actors playing actors has been a staple in Hollywood since the dawn of time. Cate Blanchett won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for portraying Katherine Hepburn in The Aviator. We deserve a biopic on the great Cicely Tyson. We have so much material to mine from her six-decade career, including her time as a fashion model for Ebony to her tumultuous relationship with jazz legend Miles Davis, the options are endless. Who better than to portray Tyson than Kimberly Elise. Often noted for her resemblance to Tyson, Elise has proven she has to dramatic heft in films such as Set It Off, Beloved and Woman Art Thou Loosed.
6) Anika Noni Rose as Stephanie St. Clair
Known as Harlem’s Queen Of Numbers, Stephanie St. Clair was a Prohibition-era gangster who ran Harlem’s number rackets and fought the Italian mob for control of Harlem in the 1930s. A Tony Award winning actress, Rose oozes that certain je ne sais quoi of The Harlem Renaissance. If her role as Dr. Eva Fletcher in the former BET show The Quad is any indicator, Rose certainly is adept at playing characters who know how to command respect in a male dominated environment. In 2017, it was reported that Tim Story was developing an HBO film about this audacious queenpin. Hopefully Story will consider Rose for the role of St. Clair if the opportunity arises.
7) Jussie Smollett as Langston Hughes
One of the most prominent figures of the Harlem Renaissance and among the most prominent Black voices in literature, Langston Hughes still does not have a major Hollywood motion picture. While Jussie Smollett appeared as Hughes for a brief moment in the 2017 legal drama Marshall, he should definitely reprise his role in a solo film about the famed poet.
8) Terrence Howard as Dr. Donald Shirley
We definitely deserve a do-over of Donald Shirley’s life on the big screen. Only this time, let’s get a Black writer, a Black director and the Shirley family’s input. While Mahershala Ali is expected to win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as the musical genius in Green Book, it would be nice to see Dr. Shirley’s life and true story on screen, removed from the white gaze. Terrence Howard is closer to how Dr. Shirley looked and his higher-pitched voice sounds similar too. Let’s get a Dr. Shirley movie in production, ASAP. No white saviors allowed though!