1. Alice Walker / Thandie Newton
Setting: Anderson Valley, Calif. / 1985
Potential Plot: While Alice Walker is certainly excited about the prospect of her book, The Color Purple, becoming a movie, she can’t help but wonder if it’s the right decision. Will the director stay true to the story, or will her provocative novel be turned into something barely recognizable?
2. Grace Jones / Lupita Nyong’o
Setting: New York City & Paris / 1970
Potential Plot: Raised in a strict religious home, a young Grace Jones travels to Syracuse, N.Y., to be reunited with her parents. Upon her arrival, she is suddenly swept up in the worlds of theater and fashion, eventually making her way to Paris and becoming one of the hottest models on the catwalk.
3. Toni Morrison / Uzo Aduba
Setting: Washington, D.C. / 1970
Potential Plot: A 40-year-old single mother struggles to write her first novel while raising her two young sons. She is determined to write the story she’s always wanted to read. But will the world respond to her words?
4. Madame C.J. Walker / Queen Latifah
Setting: St. Louis / 1901
Potential Plot: After the death of her husband, a 20-year-old black woman moves to St. Louis, and makes less than a dollar a day as a washer girl. She goes on to find her fortune as an entrepreneur in hair care products, eventually becoming the country’s first black female millionaire.
5. Aretha Franklin / Amber Riley
Setting: Detroit / 1956
Potential Plot: A 15-year-old gospel songstress and mother leaves her two children behind to go on tour with her father’s band. While on the road she has the opportunity to record an album and must quickly decide how to balance motherhood with a dream.
6. Mary McLeod Bethune / Oprah Winfrey
Setting: Daytona Beach, Fla. / 1904
Potential Plot: In 1904, Mary Bethune has one dream: to be a schoolteacher in her very own schoolhouse for black girls. She will have to face government betrayal, nervous civilians, and her own fears in order to make her dream come true.
7. Vonetta McGee / Kerry Washington
Setting: Los Angeles / 1968
Potential Plot: With Blaxploitation films at the height of popularity, a young actress finds herself struggling with her personal politics, directors who can’t keep their hands to themselves, and the overwhelming shadow of Pam Grier.
8. Hattie McDaniel / Mo’Nique
Setting: Los Angeles / 1942
Potential Plot: After winning an Academy Award for her role in Gone With The Wind, Hattie believes she has made it. But is Hollywood ready to create roles for black women beyond maids and slaves, and will Hattie ever get to be the leading lady?
9. Eartha Kitt / Jurnee Smollett
Setting: New York City / 1943
Potential Plot: Kicked out of her stepfather’s home for being a “half-breed,” Eartha Kitt is determined to prove to her mother and the rest of the world that she’s nobody’s trash to be put out on the street. She’s a star.
10. Zora Neale Hurston / Angela Bassett
Setting: Fort Pierce, Fla. / 1959
Potential Plot: After a full life of adventure and literary pursuits, Hurston finds herself in a mess of failing health, medical bills, and financial insecurity. Over the course of her illness, she begins responding to fan letters, hoping to find a friend for the end of her life.
11. Dr. Maya Angelou / Octavia Spencer
Setting: New York City / 1968
Potential Plot: After the murder of her friend and leader of the civil rights movement, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Maya Angelou can hardly bear to leave her room. When her confidant, James Baldwin, comes to coax her out of the darkness, she finds the will to confront the world again, and to write her truth in the process.
12. Shirley Chisholm / Viola Davis
Setting: Washington, D.C. / 1972
Potential Plot: Education is the key to a meaningful life for Shirley Chisholm, but there is more to be done outside the classroom. If she truly wants to change the world, she’ll have to learn to play a dangerous game: politics.
13. Octavia Butler / Jennifer Hudson
Setting: Los Angeles / 1976
Potential Plot: Can a painfully shy woman with dyslexia save herself with a rich imagination and an idea for a novel that could set the science fiction world on fire?
14. Harriet Tubman / Kim Wayans
Setting: Maryland / 1857
Potential Plot: After eight years, Underground Railroad conductor Harriet Tubman is proud of the fact that she has never run her train off the tracks, and she has yet to lose a passenger. She is taking one last trip across the Mason-Dixon Line, and this time she’s carrying the most precious cargo of all: her parents.
15. Angela Davis / Anika Noni Rose
Setting: Marin County, Calif. / 1970
Potential Plot: In the midst of civil unrest, Angela Davis, a known freedom fighter, finds herself fighting racist institutions on the streets, and misogyny and colorism behind closed doors.
16. Moms Mabley / Regina Hall
Setting: New York City / 1926
Potential Plot: In the 1920s and ’30s a black woman in androgynous clothing starts doing stand-up comedy. Though sometimes billed as “lesbian comedy,” Jackie Mabley makes people laugh against a background of injustice. What’s it like to be the funniest woman in America, when America doesn’t love you?
17. Assata Shakur / Teyonah Parris
Setting: New Jersey / 1973 & Cuba / Present
Potential Plot: Assata Shakur was prepared for death in service to the fight for equality. She was not prepared for exile. What happens to a young woman whose country calls her “terrorist”? This is the story of deception, propaganda, and the fight to bring her home.