If I asked you, “Who was the first American female to earn an international pilot’s license and make aviation history?” you would likely answer “Amelia Earhart.” Wrong answer.
One of the first “Queen of the Skies” and the first Black woman to earn a pilot’s license was actually a Texas-born African American woman named Bessie Coleman. It’s a piece of history that has often been overlooked and under-appreciated. (I’ve filed this under “yet another fact I was never taught in school!”)
Coleman achieved something that no American woman had ever done before, at the “height of the worst era of racial violence”* in our country’s history. The odds were stacked against people of color, yet Ms. Coleman not only defied gravity, but she also defied the odds.
Thanks to a comprehensive new documentary, Bessie Coleman: Queen of the Skies, narrated by esteemed actor Keith David and now airing on Curiosity Stream, the woman who found freedom while flying is receiving the recognition she wholeheartedly deserves.
David O’Donnell, VP and Executive Producer for Jupiter Entertainment, the production company behind the documentary, said Bessie Coleman’s story would be incredible today, but that she did it in 1921 “makes it utterly astonishing.”
Click below to view the trailer on Vimeo
“It’s a real shame that few people know her story,” said O’Donnell. “Our hope is that girls and women who are currently considering the STEM fields might draw inspiration from her determination, bravery, and commitment to achieve their own goals and become icons themselves.”
Co-Executive Producer and co-writer Lorna Anozie was well aware of Coleman’s place in history when she decided to come on board to write the documentary.
“I was in awe not only of her tenacity and bravery at that time, but also of the support she received from the thriving African American community in the south side of Chicago,” said Anozie. “I wasn’t aware that ever existed, but it was an essential element to her goal of making a better life for herself.”
In researching Bessie Coleman’s background, producer Cathy Abraham was amazed at how she was able to overcome the horrible blockades of racism, sexism and poverty.
“In an era where Black/African American women in the U.S. were not allowed to learn how to fly—she had to go to France for that privilege—she found a way to board a ship, head to Europe and learn how to speak French! Long before smartphones or language apps!”
Coleman’s remarkable feats are chronicled with archival photos and amazing dramatization, making this “the definitive tell-all Bessie Coleman documentary.” *
Now she will hopefully take her place in history and continue to be an inspiration to women everywhere. NASA astronaut Dr. Mae Jamison wrote in an afterword in Queen Bess: Daredevil Aviator that she was embarrassed and saddened she had not heard of her until her own historic space flight. To honor her she carried a picture of Coleman with her into space.
As Dr. Jamison said,
“I wished I had known her while I was growing up, but then again I think she was there with me all the time.”
To watch a two-minute preview of the documentary available on Curiosity Stream, click the photo:
The entire documentary is available on Curiosity Stream (sign up required)
*According to the “Bessie Coleman: Queen of the Skies” documentary
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