Lerner Publications
Lerner Publications

Producers Philip and Tanya Hart have announced that they are developing a feature film on aviation pioneer Bessie Coleman who, in 1921, became the first black woman to earn a pilot’s license in the USA. Because flying schools in the country denied her entry, she moved to France, earning her license from France’s well-known Caudron Brother’s School of Aviation in just seven months – two years before the famous Amelia Earhart earned her license. Coleman specialized in stunt flying and parachuting, earning a living performing aerial tricks. She remains a pioneer of women in the field of aviation who, in 1922, became the first African American woman to stage a public flight in the States.

The Harts’ project – “Flying Free with Bessie Coleman” – will be based on Philip Hart’s own source material from his two Bessie Coleman books for young readers, and a treatment developed by the Harts while at Disney Studios.

Their daughter Ayanna Hart is a producing partner on the film.

Philip Hart is author of “Up in the Air: The Story of Bessie Coleman,” (1996), “Bessie Coleman: Just the Facts,” (2005), and “Flying Free: America’s First Black Aviators,” a 1992 Notable Children’s Trade Book. These three books for young readers were published by Lerner Publishing Group and their paper back rights were acquired by Scholastic. Philip Hart is also author of the 2013 Oxford University Press online photo essay “Early African American Aviators” which includes a chapter on Bessie Coleman. Philip and Tanya Hart are producers and writers of the 1987 PBS documentary film “Flyers in Search of a Dream” which tells the stories of early African American aviators, including Bessie Coleman. The doc is available on DVD.

Coleman would later open The Bessie Coleman Aero Club in Los Angeles in 1929, becoming the first all-black flight school in the world, where she taught aviation mechanics and gave flying lessons. Philip Hart’s great-uncle James Herman Banning was the chief pilot for the Bessie Coleman Aero Club, which, in 1931, put on the first all-black air show at LA’s Eastside airport.

A 2018 release is eyed for “Flying Free with Bessie Coleman.” It’s a project that’s coming together at a good time, with the strong box office performance, as well as critic and audience reception of “Hidden Figures.”

Another name to add to our growing list of 60+ biopics on black public figures at some stage of development, or development hell.

The Harts have produced, written and hosted film, television and radio content for over 30 years. They were recipients of The Caucus for Producers, Writers & Directors Diversity Award in 2011. Tanya Hart has won Emmy Awards, Peabody Awards and Ohio State Awards for her documentary films and television programs. She also hosted and produced “Live from LA with Tanya Hart” for BET. Philip Hart’s book for young readers “Flying Free: America’s First Black Aviators” was named Notable Children’s Trade Book in 1992.