Well the title is giving me away here, isn’t it? I recently heard about the television adaptation of Philippa Gregory’s The White Princess and it got me. TV once again decides to speak about women in history trough both the Tudor and Philippa Gregory’s lens. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Tudor’s era, but the number of movies/TV-series around it (especially around Tudor women) is uncanny in comparison to other countries and other areas:
That’s just a tiny sample of the TV-series/movies that centre around Tudor women… Guys stop…
And even if I will probably die for Elizabeth I, I also regret that there isn’t more cinematographic adaptation of other women. Because women didn’t wait until the Tudor area to wage influence on nation destiny.
So I made a list of women that deserve to have their own cinematic representation. And it’s a top 10 because because a top 20 would have been too long.
The only rule that I have are that these women have to be historical figures and mustn’t have had a cinematic representation before (not counting secondary roles).
Me upon discovering that I could not talk about Theodora and Zenobia because of two very historically inaccurate peplums.
Keep in mind that it’s a very subjective top 10 (and very French too!). Your submission or even your own top ten are very welcomed. With it we will create a big box full of names that we will send to any producer wanting to adapt another novel of Philippa Gregory.
Let’s begin shall we?
10: Lady Carcas
Lady Carcas was the wife of the Saracen Lord of Carcassonne, during the rule of Charlemagne (8th century). Charlemagne decided to besiege the city because he wanted to push back the Saracens out of France. But Carcassonne wasn’t easy to capture. Indeed it looks like that:
Yes still today.
So a long and hard siege was prepared by both the defenders and attackers. The things that nobody saw coming is that the Lord of Carcassonne died during the first assault. Needless to say, this pissed lady Carcas off. It pissed her off so much that she took command of the city’s defenses. And she managed to push every assault back and keep control of the city… FOR FIVE YEARS! At the beginning of the sixth year the provisions were running low (no kidding!) so Lady Carcas decided to inspect them to see what can still be done. Only a pig and a bag of grain remained. She then made the radical decision to feed the pig with all the remaining grain. She asked that the pig was thrown from the top of the ramparts. At the impact with the ground the pig exploded and Charlemagne army’s watched with surprise the grain coming from its stomach. They came to the conclusion that the city was still up to suffering a very long siege if they feed their pigs so well. They then decided to lift the siege.
While Charlemagne’a army was getting away from the Carcassonne they heard its bells ring and someone declared “Carcas is ringing” or “Carcas sonne” and therefore the city was named.
Despise her being the most badass of all the badasses why do she scores so low? Well, it’s because contrary to popular belief Lady Carcas never existed. She was the hero of a medieval song whose legend survives up until today. But, you say, Anne you’re cheating! Well a bit, but think about the possibilities.
It would give a medieval war film were women get back their rightful place in said war. It would also remind everyone of the diversity of Europe during the High Middle Ages since Lady Carcas was Muslim. And the writers will be free to write the characters’ backstories and relationships as they want without being traitors to history. And finally we will see a bit of medieval fashion, who doesn’t like medieval fashion?
Come on that movie is writing itself!
9: Madame de Pompadour
I promise the next one isn’t French. Well I am cheating a bit here too because she did got a silent movie at the beginning of the 20th century and French tv-movie. However both are as far from mass media as you can possibly get. So it’s past time that she get the recognition she deserves.
Mme de Pompadour was the mistress of Louis XV of France. Not that he didn’t have other mistresses, but when you ask about his love life Mme de Pompadour is the first and for a lot of person the only name that came out. Because she was that awesome.
A bit like Anne Boleyn, she was presented to the King as a means of influence over him for her family and its allies, expect she wasn’t noble. She won the affection of the King, quickly became his favorite and earned herself a title. Jeanne Poisson is dead, long live Madame de Pompadour. Despite suffering attacks from the Church and the old nobility (who despised her for her “parvenu” position), she managed to keep her influence on the King by, among other things, refusing to antagonizing the Queen. Even after they ceased to be sexual partners, she was still Louis XV favorite. Patroness of arts and philosophy she was in charge of a big part of the court’s entertainment, made possible the publication of foundational texts of the enlightenment movement, and even influenced Louis XV’s foreign policy.
She was basically a second queen who managed to keep her “title” without having and a holy bound or a child in the equation, only with her wit and intelligence . If she doesn’t deserve a movie nobody does.
Here have Madame de Pompadour cosplaying Diana for you.
Amazigh Queen of badassery. Her real name was lost to history (even if there are theories) so she is now known by the nickname given by her enemies: Kahina. It means prophetess or witch, because when men lose against a woman they are like this: “arhhh must be a witch who see the future! No other rational explanation possible!”. I don’t know if Kahina was able to see the future or even claimed to be but she sure was ready to take up arms for what she believed in.
She was an Amazigh queen in the 8th century, when the Magreb was being conquered by the Muslim Ummeyade dynasty. While it’s unclear if Kahina was Jewish or Christian; she wasn’t Muslim for sure and wasn’t ready to be forced to be. She was a tribal chief probably elected after her father. She took control of the Amazigh resistance after the previous leader was killed in battle. She decided to continue the war against the Ummeyade invaders to punish them for the massacres they had committed against Amazigh tribes. She effectively kept under her control all of the Ifriqiya region during 5 years and won numerous battle against her opponent (including the Battle of the Camels where all her ingenuity was shown).
Which is a pretty big region.
Eventually the Ummeyade invaders started concentrate their forces against the Amazigh resistance. Seeing her defeat coming, she decided to practice a scorched earth policy at great political coast to discourage the seizing of land by the Muslim power. She finally lost an important battle because of treason but managed to send her sons to the enemy to guarantee her lineage and people’s survival. She was then captured, beheaded and her head was send to the Khalif.
Don’t tell me that her life wouldn’t make one hell of a movie.
7: Murasaki Shikibu and Madame de Lafayette
Seven is a special number for me, so I use it to cheat again by presenting you not one but two women! Murasaki Shikibu and Madame de Lafayette didn’t live in the same century or in the same country but they do have certain things in common. They both wrote very important novels which are still considered classics today.
Murasaki Shikibu is the author of the Tale of the Genji. Written at the beginning of the tenth century, this novel is considered as one of work defining the written Japanese language, one of the first novel centering mainly around its characters psychology and is still today an inescapable Japanese classic. To add to that Murasaki Shikibu was uncommonly well-instructed for a woman of this area and spend a lot of time at the imperial court which was at the time effervescent with refinement and intrigues (two empresses for the price of one).
Mme de Lafayette is also a unforgettable writer of psychological novels that are still highly regarded today. She was well-acquainted (PLATONICALLY) with prestigious philosophers of her time. She lived under the rule of Louis XIII and of Louis XIV, a very politically-interesting period (oh and she was the official biographer of Henriette of England, so you can kill two birds with one stone and do the Princess some justice too).
The two women left countless writing materials about their lives, Murasaki Shikibu in diaries and Mme de Lafayette through her correspondence. And if even with all that you don’t manage to write a movie about one of them, add parts of their books in it!
6: Marie Laveau
Marie Laveau lived in New Orleans during the 19th century and her presence still haunts the city today as the “Queen of Voodoo”.
Daughter of New Orleans’ mayor and his African-American mistress, she contributed to the popularization of Voodoo among African-Americans and white people. Even if details about her life are poorly known (she might had been an hairdresser and used her position to gather information on her white, rich clients) she is believed to have waged considerable influence in New Orleans to the point of being described as walking in “the streets like she owned them”.
Regardless on your view on her: Voodoo priestess, witch, or woman capable of using mystical appearances to gain influence, the story of Marie Laveau is a fascinating one. She was a woman using her on personal strengths to obtain power and recognition when she was unlikely to have any because of her race, gender, and social position. Making a movie or series about her will also allow everyone to remember the complicated place of free African-Americans in 19th century New Orleans, between slavery and contempt of class.
Not all queens wear crowns.
(I have read somewhere that a movie on Marie Laveau is in preparation for 2017, but I know better that to trust Hollywood before having the final product in my own hands).
5: Ranavalona I
Let’s continue in the 19th with a less known figure: Ranavalona I, Queen of Madagascar. She became the first Queen Regnant of Madagascar after the death or her husband/cousin (and trough political machinations, evicted the official male heir) just at the moment were the Europeans began to do more than testing the water in term of “modern” colonization.
What a terrible time to begin one’s reign.
Never fooled by the Europeans’s intentions, she decided to get rid of their influence and wage war upon them if necessary. Yet she remained economically pragmatic. She sized land on the African continent to create buffer zones between her country and colonizing powers. She still managed to modernize her country through the help of “adventurers”, who had bad relationships with their home countries. At the end of her reign she left Madagascar more powerful, more developed, and more independent that were she was crowned.
However, Ranavalona I still had darker facets mainly shown through her persecution of Christian minorities that she considered as potential traitors. A complex, interesting and unknown sovereign, what are the producers asking for?
4: Artemisia I
Artemisia I of Caria was queen regent of Halicarnasus (a Greek city-state) in 5th century BCE. She allied her city to the Persian King Xerxes during the second Persian invasion of Greece. Artemisia, in addition to sharing a name with the Greek goddess of hunt, was the admiral of her own fleet and was considered quite successful one.
She was the only military advisor to warn Xerxes against his plan for the naval battle of Salamis. But still, when the decision was made to go into battle as planned, she tagged along as any brave and loyal ally should. The battle didn’t go well for the Persians (as she had predicted) but she distinguished herself in it. She managed to not get captured by the Greeks thanks to her cleverness. She also sank the boat of one of her “Persian” rivals in the procedure.
After the battle, it is believed that Xerxes covered her with martial glory and listened to her advice about what should be done for the remaining Greek campaign. She was then trusted with the education of one of Xerxes’s illegitimate sons. And Herodotus, ” father of history” , had an excellent opinion of her despise being Greek. That tells a lot about the respect she inspired.
Actually she did appear in a movie: 300 Rise of an Empire. She was the inspiration behind Eva Green’s character. But this character is both caricatural enough and different enough from what we know of the real Artemisia for me to say she still deserves a cinematic adaptation.
What is happening here???
And here comes the top 3!
3: Yolande of Aragon, Duchess of Anjou
Yolande of Aragon, Duchess (consort) of Anjou, and I am excluding titles here because she will put Daenerys Targaryen to shame, is the ultimate example of the saying “well-behaved women seldom make history”. In the sense that they do make history but don’t make it to the history books. Because, in my view, she is the woman who allowed France to win the Hundred Years’ war.
She took the party of the very young Charles VII who wasn’t, at the time, supported by is own mother and married her daughter to him. She managed to bring him an alliance with Brittany, which was rotting for an English victory before that. She organized the assassination of his rivals. She is more than likely the instigator behind Joan of Arc’s appearance and also probably contributed to the creation of her “saint warrior” image (she was in the room during the gynecologic examination of “The Maid of Orleans”). She continued to be councilor of the King and wage considerable influence in a lot a French court until nearly her death by using a network of women devoted to her. By the way, she is the grandmother of Margaret of Anjou, and is believed to have taken part in her education.
She was at the same time described as “the wisest and most beautiful princess in Christendom” and by her grandson as having “a man’s heart in a woman’s body”. Coming from Louis XI, the “universelle aragne” (universal spider), it’s something which should instigate both fear and respect toward Yolande of Aragon. If she had met Machiavelli she would probably have taught him one or two things on how to advise princes.
Yolande’s motto probably.
Since the duration of her action spread across several years and since she met numerous important persons, I do advice to adapt her to screen in a TV-series.
For some reason which escape reason itself, the most famous and one of the only two female Pharaohs of ancient Egypt never got a cinematographic adaptation. I could stop here: Hatshepsut is the most famous female Pharaoh, rank normally reserved to men, of ancient Egypt. The most famous female Pharaoh in 3000 years of History! But I am going to explain this a bit.
Hatshepsut was first a queen of the 18th dynasty (the one of Akhenaten and Tutankhamun). Daughter of Thutmose I, she was married to her brother, who was the actual Pharaoh. When he died leaving a very young heir (from another wife), Hatshepsut took the regency… FOR 21 YEARS! She then started to create representation of herself wearing the attribute of a Pharaoh trespassing her position of regent. And she finally became Pharaoh.
We know she successfully developed trades routes contributing to the formidable richness of the 18th dynasty. She is also known as the Pharaoh who built the most monuments and inaugurated the famous Valleys on the Kings, proving that she used symbolic power like a champ.
However, her reign mustn’t have been completely easy since she changed her own filiation by replacing her Pharaoh father with an actual God father in her quest of legitimacy. Succeeding generations also tried to erased her rule by making other male Pharaohs the makers of her achievements.
So here you have a successful woman in an unusual position of power that thousand of years and the will of her successors didn’t manage to make disappear. It’s all set in ancient Egypt (who doesn’t like ancient Egypt?). And there is still no movie about her? It’s not complicated…you adapt the few historical truths and you fill the gap! Goddamit! There should be an Hatshepsut’s curse, not Tutankhamun’s one.
Being forgotten by mass media is nearly as bad as being erased by your own nephew.
1: Ching Shih
Do you remember this Chinese pirate captain in the third Pirates of the Caribbean?
Do you? Do you?
She was inspired by Ching Shih, a woman so epically awesome that she made it to first place.
She was a Chinese pirate at the beginning of the 19th. She started her life as a sex worker, but was kidnapped by pirates of the Red Flag Fleet. She eventually became the wife of the leader and started participating in piracy by his side. When he died, she maneuvered her way to the head of the Red Flag Fleet. From here she started to terrorize anyone who sailed the South China Sea and wrote a very harsh and very efficient pirate code. And efficient and successful she was. She personally commanded 300 junks and her entire fleet was composed of 1 500 boats (which makes approximately 180,000 pirates under her command).
She was a thorn in China’s and new colonial powers’s sides, though they did try to stop her multiple time. No results. She captured many attacking boats to the point where China was obliged to buy fishing boat to compensate its losses.
She finally negotiated an amnesty in 1810 after a career of 6 years of piracy with 3 directly commanding the fleet (which is a pretty long career in pirate’s terms, there was no health plan after all). This makes her one of the rare successfully retired pirates. She then bought a gambling house/brothel that she ran until her death in 1844. She was 69 years old.
If pirate lady successfully making multiple empires bend under her will doesn’t float your boat, then I don’t know what will. (Well if pirate doesn’t float your boat to begin with we probably have an artistic disagreement).
(Same as for Marie Laveau; there is supposedly a Tv-series in preparation about Ching Shih, with some parts already shot. Unfortunately it’s been in production since 2014, and there’s still no release date. I told you can’t trust them!)