Emma Edwards Green – Flag Designer

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Emma Edwards Green was the first woman to design a state flag. She was, in fact, the only woman to design a state flag. Emma visited friends in Boise Idaho in 1890 and decided to stay. She taught art classes and was later invited to submit a design for the state flag of Idaho. Her design was selected and she received $100 prize money. The natural resources of Idaho are displayed in her design, including a miner and a woman. Her original art rests in the Idaho Historical Society.

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Misty Copeland – Principal Dancer

MISTY COPELANDWhen Misty Copeland was named principal dancer for the American Ballet Theatre this week, her achievement was noted because she is the First African-American Woman to hold this position. Of course she was already known in the ballet world as she worked her way up to this recognition, but her fame has extended beyond the sphere of classical dance.

Misty Copeland did not begin dancing until she was a young teenager. In spite of being told that it was too late for her to become a ballerina, she trained and progressed rapidly. She was en pointe within a few months and within two years she placed first in the Los Angeles Music Center Spotlight Awards. That award provided offers from the Joffrey Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, Dance Theater of Harlem and Pacific Northwest Ballet for places in their summer workshops. She selected San Francisco Ballet, but would later study in the Summer Intensive Program at American Ballet Theatre. ABT then offered her (and five others out of 150) a place in their junior dance troupe.

In the last decade Misty Copeland has been visible internationally and in mass media. In 2009 she appeared in a performance at the National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing. The ABT engagement was the first by an American ballet company at the new Chinese arts center. In 2011 Misty was selected as one of 37 Boundary-breaking black women in entertainment by Essence magazine. By 2015 she was named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People (in the world). She was also profiled within the last year on “60 Minutes.”

She has brought new audience members to ballet, perhaps because she dances across the gaps between classical and popular tastes. The same year she danced in Beijing, she danced on a piano top for a Prince video. Although she idolized the Argentine principal ballerina Paloma Herrera after seeing her dance, she did not abandon her earlier admiration for the music of Mariah Carey.

Her influence might be likened to Brandi Chastain. Not many people paid attention to women’s soccer until the 1999 World Cup. Few forget the moment after USA won the cup and Brandi Chastain removed her shirt as if saying, “Here I am world. This is the power of a woman’s body.” Misty Underwood conveyed the same message last year when she danced in her Under Armour for a commercial as part of their “I Will What I Want” campaign. The ad had four million views within one week.

During the ad a young girl reads the rejection letter received by Misty Copeland when she started dancing. We can admire the strong body she developed but also the persistence that marks her character. She provides inspiration to women of all ages.

First Women at the Tonys

Screen Shot 2015-06-12 at 11.50.48 AMActor and playwright Lisa Kron and composer and arranger Jeanine Tesori have both earned many awards from even more nominations. Kron’s list of awards includes three Obies and a Pulitzer Prize nomination. Tesori, the most prolific woman composer on Broadway, has won Drama Desk Awards, and received four Tony nominations.

Each is formidable in her own right, but this past Monday, together, they achieved a first. They were the First Women to win a Tony Award as an all-female writing team, for the book and music for Fun Home. It has been 24 years since two women were even considered. In 1991 Lucy Simon and Marsha Norman were nominated for the musical adaption of The Secret Garden. Only two years ago, in 2013, Cyndi Lauper won a Tony for the music and lyrics for Kinky Boots, becoming the First Woman to win Best Score without a male collaborator.

Fun Home also claims a first, the first Broadway musical with a lesbian protagonist. The show is a testament to perseverance. It took Alison Bechdel seven years to create the autobiographical graphic novel on which the book is based. Then it took five years for Kron and Tesori to develop the book and music. The musical played in lab and off-Broadway, winning awards even before making it to Broadway.

Fun Home is the story of a young woman exploring her sexuality, while her own father explores his. Beth Malone, who plays Alison Bechdel in the musical was nominated for a Tony as Leading Actress in a Musical and Judy Kuhn, who plays Alison’s mother, was nominated for a Tony as an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical.

The musical won an Obie, a Drama Critics’ Circle Award and a Tony for Best Musical. It was also nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

 

Dramatic Aside (a “Curious” and “Fun” Question): In 2015 the Tony for Best Musical (Fun Home) and the Tony for Best Play (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time) were both for works based on literature. I wonder how often that happens?

 

Cast of Women

Screen Shot 2015-01-28 at 5.57.19 PMThank you to KUOW radio for introducing me to a film from 1939 that starred only women. Predictably titled The Women, it was based on a play by Clare Boothe Luce and adapted for the screen by Anita Loos and Jane Murfin. There were 130 speaking roles and, although the women talk a lot about men, there is not a single man shown in the movie. Even the pets and family portraits in the movie are female. Was this a first, at least in the commercial film business?

The list of women in the movie’s cast is breathtaking. Even if you are not a movie buff, you might recognize many of the names:

Norma Shearer

Joan Crawford

Rosalind Russell

Paulette Goddard

Joan Fontaine

Lucile Watson

Mary Boland

Virginia Grey

Marjorie Main

Phyllis Povah

Florence Nash

Ruth Hussey

Virginia Weidler

Butterfly McQueen

Hedda Hopper

The film made over $2 million (a tidy sum in 1939) but its production costs exceeded its gross. Did the content of the film keep it out of the popular annals of film history? That might not be the case. The film was directed by George Cukor, which would get a film historian’s attention. However, in 1939, it competed with a few other good (make that great) films. They included Gone with the Wind (which grossed ten times The Women). Other films grossing more that year were: The Wizard of Oz, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Babes in Arms, Goodbye Mr. Chips, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Gunga Din, and Ninotchka.

Megan Ellison – Movie Producer

Screen Shot 2014-06-16 at 6.35.21 PM          Megan Ellison was the first woman producer to receive two Best Picture nominations in one year, but that was not enough to earn her a place on Time magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2014. Only twenty-eight years old, Megan Ellison is the founder of Annapurna Pictures, a production company whose stated goal is to “produce sophisticated high-quality films that might otherwise be deemed risky by contemporary Hollywood studios.”

In an industry where, among the top 250 grossing domestic films, only 16% of directors and other executives, writers, editors and cinematographers are women, Megan Ellison is a standout. She provides what has been called a “Silicon Valley” approach to filmmaking. Her films draw in prominent directors and screenwriters but are original, even daring projects. While the major studios prefer to finance and promote blockbusters, she supports riskier ideas with sophisticated plots. Among her earlier projects were the Coen Brothers’ True Grit and Kathryn Bieglow’s Zero Dark Thirty.

Both of the films she produced in 2013 were nominated for multiple academy awards. Her, which is described as a science fiction romantic comedy drama film, was nominated for three Golden Globe nominations and five Academy Award nominations. Spike Jonze, the director won for best original screenplay in both contests. At the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards, Her shared the best picture award with Gravity.

In the same year American Hustle won three Golden Globe Awards, three BAFTA Awards and the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture. Nominated for ten Academy Awards, the picture did not win in any category but received widespread critical acclaim.

The plots of these two movies demonstrate the unusual topics that intrigue Megan Ellison. In Her Joaquin Phoenix had a relationship with Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johnsson), an intelligent computer operating system. In American Hustle, two con artists set up a sting operation on corrupt politicians, similar to the FBI’s ABSCAM operation several decades earlier.

Ellison’s Annapurna Pictures is deserving of its name. Annapurna is the name of a section of the Himalayas in Nepal and Ellison has taken her work to the heights of the movie world, in spite of her willingness to take risks and produce projects other spurn. Annapurna is also the name of a Hindu goddess who provides food and nourishment. Ellison is certainly a goddess and protector, nourishing projects that might have withered away without her patronage.

LEARN MORE:

Her filmography: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm2691892/

About her style and background: http://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2013/03/megan-ellison-27-producer-zero-dark-thirty