I had the opportunity this weekend to catch a movie filled with adventure, romance, suspense and period glamor. As with so many films, the story literally flew out of the pages of our history books and onto the silver screen. Hilary Swank is a revelation as "Amelia" Earhart, the barrier-breaking female aviatrix who captured the world's attention in the 1920s and 1930s before her tragic disappearance over the Pacific Ocean in 1937.
While she passed away before I was born, like many Americans, I grew up with a special affection for Earhart, who was a fellow Kansan who'd made good. From small-town roots, she struck her own unique and independent path--with confidence and without apology--inhabiting an increasingly glamorous world, yet never losing her down-to-earth ability to call too much fuss and bluster a load of "hooey."
Her achievements buoyed a nation that had fallen on hard times. Yet as she soared to megawatt international stardom, she was keenly aware of the struggles of working families in the depths of the Great Depression. Indeed one of the more dazzling (and true) scenes from the film involves Earhart taking then First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt on an impromptu late-night flight over the nation's capital--two iconic women leaders looking down over the most powerful city in the world.
Earhart handled the more than occasional dig at her gender with unflappable grace and infectious brio. In doing so, she broke barriers and inspired generations well beyond the world of aviation. She did well by her home state, too. A key early booster of commercial air travel, Earhart helped vastly expand an industry that today is one of Kansas' leading job creators.
Fox Searchlight deserves kudos for bringing this important American story to the big screen, particularly at a time when strong female leads in major motion pictures are believed by many to be too few and far between.
Movies are incomparable in bringing history to life and to the masses. And, this one certainly boasts an on-time arrival as women leaders convene in Southern California this week for The Women's Conference. Central to the conversation there, undoubtedly, will be The Shriver Report: A Woman's Nation Changes Everything. This groundbreaking document, produced in partnership with the Center for American Progress, explores the "new normal" in our society where women now make up half the work force and, nearly as often as men, are the chief breadwinners in their households.
We may love our "Mad Men" on television. But increasingly our society is moving beyond "the problem that has no name," as Betty Friedan once famously put it. According to The Shriver Report, from the kitchen table to the conference room, men and women increasingly are negotiating together a new balance of work and home. There, too, Earhart was ahead of her time, striking the word "obey" from her wedding vows and noting firmly but with affection that her marriage was a "partnership" of "dual control."
Growing up in Kansas, the Earhart legend was fresh in the minds of the people around me. She faced danger and courage at a time when this was not encouraged in women, and she changed history, women's lives and our society in the process. Throughout her life, Earhart continually exhorted women to "take to the skies." In the decades since her disappearance, they have answered her call in a virtually limitless abundance of ways. Now, through the power of movies, Amelia Earhart's real-life heroism is inspiring a new generation. I hope they remember her as I do--head held high, looking to the horizon.
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