Animated Bessie Coleman film planned
Atlanta native and aviation pioneer Bessie Coleman will be the subject of a planned animated short film, part of a series of films aimed at bringing the stories of lesser-known African American historical figures to a wider audience.
For Atlanta residents accustomed to hearing of Coleman’s accomplishments as the first black female pilot, “lesser known” might not register as a description of the woman or her exploits. In Atlanta -- Coleman’s birthplace, where she’s featured in the local museum -- her story is naturally more front and center than in some other parts of the world, and her achievements are cemented in the annals of aviation history.
Still, there are many -- including many young people -- who don’t know her story. The planned film by Karyn Parsons, founder of the nonprofit Sweet Blackberry, aims to help change that. Parsons, known for appearing on the television series Fresh Prince of Bel Air and for other credits, said creating greater exposure for Coleman’s story was a natural fit for her organization.
“Bessie Coleman is someone who was clearly way ahead of her time,” Parsons said during an interview with the Citizens Journal last week. “We’re talking about a woman who lived during a time of tremendous gender and racial discrimination -- and who had the perseverance and the strong will to say, ‘look, I want to do this, so I’m going to figure out how to do it.
“I just find that so remarkable.”
Coleman was born in Atlanta on Jan. 26, 1892 and went on to break a number of barriers, becoming the first black woman to earn a pilot’s license.
Describing what makes Coleman’s story perfect for inclusion in the series is this snippet from the Sweet Blackberry website: “Bessie grew up during a time where aviation schools in the United States would not let her learn to fly because she was a woman and she was black. Without letting this prevent her from accomplishing her dream, Bessie taught herself French, moved to France and earned her license from the renowned Caudron Brothers School of Aviation.”
Coleman returned to America and earned a living barnstorming and performing mid-air stunts. In 1926, she was killed during a rehearsal for a show.
A Kickstarter campaign launched June 20 to help provide financing for the film “The Bessie Coleman Story”, which will be the fourth in a series of Sweet Blackberry’s animated shorts. Award-winning actor Laurence Fishburne will narrate the film, while celebrated illustrator R. Gregory Christie will bring Bessie’s story to life visually.
The film’s Kickstarter page can be found at www.kickstarter.com/projects/798791271/the-bessie-coleman-story-presente... . As of Tuesday, more than $12,000 had been raised toward the project’s $50,000 budget goal, which the filmmakers are trying to achieve by July 20.
They point out that if they aren’t able to reach the fundraising goal, they don’t keep any of the money donated.
Previous films by Sweet Blackberry have earned the Parent’s Choice Award and Learning Magazine’s Teacher’s Choice Awards, among other accolades, and have been narrated by actors Chris Rock, Alfre Woodard and Queen Latifah. All the films are currently available to stream on Netflix and have been distributed to libraries and schools around the world.
“I wanted to tell Bessie’s story from the very beginning,” Parsons said. “I was reluctant at first because I’m trying to tell little known stories, and there was a little more about Bessie out there than other people. But there still weren’t enough people that knew about her, and to me I feel that she’s an American story that everybody should know about.”