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Rosa Parks’ Early Activist Years is Coming to the Big Screen

The Montgomery bus boycott made her a household name, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg of the vibrant life of Rosa Parks’ activism.
By  · Published on September 27th, 2017

The Montgomery bus boycott made her a household name, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg of the vibrant life of Rosa Parks’ activism.

A new film by director Julie Dash is set to breathe new life into the biography of famous activist Rosa Parks. Deadline reports that a biopic based on “At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance” by Danielle McGuire is being developed by Invisible Pictures. The film will be set within a decade prior to Parks’ iconic resistance of bus segregation, and track the story of how she fought for justice for 24-year-old and mother Recy Taylor, who was gang-raped in Alabama in 1944.

This wouldn’t be the first time Parks’ particular role in this brutal case was put on film. In fact, the case itself has such a huge impact on Alabama’s historical footprint, with documentaries like Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun? incorporating it (successfully or not, it seems to at least be a silver lining throughout the film).

But it certainly marks a change in how Parks is represented in fiction. Dash herself had once directed a TV movie, The Rosa Parks Story, starring Angela Bassett in the titular role. This was the first time Parks’ story had been adapted for the screen, with Parks herself giving her blessing. It only seems right that Dash is coming back to continue where she left off. Her decision to re-enter Parks’ world stems from a passion and need to continue fleshing out such an important historical figure in black women’s history:

“I jumped at the opportunity to dive head first back into the Rosa Parks story,” Dash told Deadline. “Doing the CBS movie, I realized that there was so much more to her life, legacy, and her activism that we didn’t have time in one [movie]. It was fascinating and just as dramatic as the Montgomery bus boycott, which is what she’s known for, but there is so much more.”

Dash also points out that many other activists who defended Taylor will be featured in the film. Between her own perspective as a woman, as well as writer Lisa Jones’ (Disappearing Acts), there is a specific framing of history, including race and gender, that is vital to tap into. More filmmakers like Dash and Ava DuVernay (who have collaborated on Queen Sugar ) are making lasting impressions on the public by creating a continuous cycle of empowering content in autonomous ways.

“One of the reasons this story is being told is so that people can connect the dots and see that there’s a continuum. Maybe it’s not the back of the bus, but the hypocrisy is the same, the racism is the same, the systemic oppression is the same, and the rape cases are absolutely the same.”

It’s a huge undertaking that requires a clear sensitivity and deep understanding of the source material, but it already seems like Dash is the right woman for the job. Variety called The Rosa Parks Story “a tasteful and stylish biopic as much about love and inspiration as it about the birth of the Civil Rights Movement.” The history itself is ambitious to tackle, but Dash is an ambitious, capable woman. It takes gumption and utmost dedication to adapt Rosa Parks’ life onscreen as it is. Yet even prior to that, her feature Daughters of the Dust was the first film by an African-American woman to widely screen theatrically in the United States. These stories, begging to be told, are increasingly finding solid avenues of production and distribution with indelible talent that’s shaped the industry from the start. The only thing that’s left for us to be is absolutely excited about it!

The untitled Rosa Parks biopic is still in its early days, although producer Audrey Rosenberg (I Am Not Your Negro) has high hopes for it to run as a staple festival piece, with production estimated to start in 2018.

Sheryl Oh often finds herself fascinated (and let's be real, a little obsessed) with actors and their onscreen accomplishments, developing Film School Rejects' Filmographies column as a passion project. She's not very good at Twitter but find her at @sherhorowitz anyway. (She/Her)