Hot damn! Viola Davis to star in Barbara Jordan biopic

10 March 2012

I dare you to come up with the name of an American woman in politics who’s more admirable or more impressive than Barbara Jordan — that leader of civil rights and feminism. So how good is this news: Viola Davis has announced that her new production company will adapt Jordan’s biography in a new film, starring Davis herself.

Due to Jim Crow laws in Texas, Jordan could not attend the University of Texas, so instead graduated from Texas Southern — where she became a champion debater of the first rank. After developing a law career in Houston, she became the first African American to be elected to the Texas State Senate, and the first Black woman to be elected to the US House of Representatives from the South. Her speeches remain masterpieces of American literature.

I can’t imagine what she must have experienced as a Black woman in Texas and national politics during an era when most white men had no problem expressing their racism and sexism openly.

One time I met a professor in Texas who had known Jordan. They were close in age had something else in common: they were both gay. Jordan never came out publicly about her sexual orientation — according to this guy she believed it was too soon, even in the 1990s, for gay rights to gain traction in the public eye. Yet some of her eulogies in 1996 made mention of her life partner, Nancy Earl, such that it has become common to speak of her as a gay woman in the intervening years.

Now that’s what I’m talking about: Viola Davis uses her newly rising Hollywood star to make a film about a groundbreaking Black gay woman. Am I dreaming?

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9 Responses to “Hot damn! Viola Davis to star in Barbara Jordan biopic”

  1. servetus Says:

    Wow, fantastic. Huge fan of Barbara Jordan here. I have been waiting for this film forever.

  2. M.E. Says:

    Best news I’ve heard all week!! Maybe all month, though that’s not a lot of time. Thanks for this!!

  3. Didion Says:

    I know, right? This news just makes me think, “And WHY has Hollywood let this one languish for so long?”


  4. Thanks for this uplifting news. Makes me sad as I recall how the disappointment many activist feminists experienced when Jordan left the national scene. Your pointing out the difficulty being a black, lesbian politician answers our long-ago questions about why she was treated by media/politicians as more of a background figure than her true stature deserved.

    • Didion Says:

      I know, right? I can’t even imagine how hard it must have been for her — coming from TX and all.

      Of course, all this makes me nervous about how the film will portray her. It almost makes me hope they focus on her college, law, and political career and those years when she was so stunning — giving the keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention in 1976 and all — rather than tracing a kind of rise-and-fall story about her illness and how she hid her sexual orientation. I don’t want Jordan turned into some kind of tragic story or cautionary tale.

      • servetus Says:

        I want people to see her power and be impressed and awed instead of frightened. One thing that always annoyed me about you know where was student reactions to that statue. “She’s big and angry” was the most common one.

      • Didion Says:

        Ugh. That’s so typical of a certain kind of groupthink undergrad. I don’t even know what to say.

        What year is it again? And we’re still futzing about how if a woman is big and black and has her hands on her hips, she must be a scary bitch?

      • servetus Says:

        I always thought, every woman on this campus walks past that statue and pauses for a second and practices the posture and thinks, man, I wish could do this at work.

  5. Hattie Says:

    Right. And I’m glad to be informed about her, since I knew so little about her beyond her name.


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