Ladies I Love: U is for Lieutenant Uhura, a True Star!

a_burning_trekkie__silver_by_schematization-d4rydciCan you guess what the most challenging letter for me in the A to Z Challenge has been?  Not X, not Q, not V, not even Z…but U.  However, when I thought about all the Ladies I Love and Lieutenant Uhura crossed my mind, I knew she was just the right woman for this tough letter!  That is because Lieutenant Uhura of Star Trek, played by Nichelle Nichols, was one tough lady!

Lieutenant Uhura served as a communications officer under Captain Kirk on the USS Enterprise during the original Star Trek series, which ran from 1966 – 1969.  Uhura moved up the Starfleet ranks throughout the movie franchise, making the rank of commander in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.  Nichelle Nichols portrayed Uhura throughout the series, as well as in all the Star Trek movies except for the last two, in which Zoë Saldana played a younger Uhura.  Uhura never took a back seat in the adventures of the Enterprise, and was often a key character in story lines, very much an equal among her Star Trek peers.

Uhura_and_Kirk_kissOne of the most remarkable things about Uhura’s character was that she was one of the FIRST African American women on TV to play a role that didn’t have anything to do with being a servant.  This was a ground-breaking character, and having an African American woman in a position of equality definitely stirred the pot on occasion.  For example, in the episode “Plato’s Stepchildren”, Uhura famously kissed Captain Kirk (ok, it was a forced kiss because she was under the influence of alien telekinesis…but still…) in a scene that is largely cited as one of the first inter-racial kisses aired on US television.

Apparently, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a fan of the show, and even let his children watch it, in part because of Nichelle Nichols’ portrayal of Uhura’s character.  Nichelle actually wanted to quit the show after the first year to pursue a career on broadway, but was told by Dr. King that she “could not give up because she was playing a vital role model for black children and young women across the country, as well as for other children who would see blacks appearing as equals.”  It’s a good thing she didn’t quit, because she DID inspire many to achieve success, including former NASA astronaut Mae Jemison, who said she was encouraged by Nichelle’s Uhura character.

MLK convo

Yes, Uhura was one smokin’ hot lady.  But she was also a star.  In Swahili, her character’s first name, Nyota, means “star”, and Uhuru means “freedom”.  With a name like that, how could Uhura achieve anything but success?  Set your phasers to “stunning”!

Ladies I Love: R is for Rachel Carson – Scientist, Conservationist and Writer

USFWS Employee PhotoToday’s A to Z Challenge post is brought to you by the letter R.  R stands for Rachel Carson, one of the Ladies I Love in the field of science.  If you don’t know who Rachel Carson was, as a female biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, I am very proud to be able to tell you a little bit about her.

Rachel Carson lived between 1907 and 1964.  She was fascinated by nature during her younger years, and went on to obtain her master’s degree in zoology from Johns Hopkins University in 1932.  Soon after, she got a job with the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries (which would later become the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) where she was one of only TWO professional women working for the organization and earned under $40 PER WEEK when she started.  She did a lot of writing for radio broadcasting at that time, primarily focusing on the ocean in an effort to inform the public about the treasures that marine systems contain and the services that they provide.  She moved up in the Bureau/Service and wrote several books about oceans, which hit the top of best seller lists everywhere.

Click to enlarge!

Click to enlarge!

It was in the mid-1940’s when she learned about DDT.  I won’t go into a lot of detail here, but throughout the next couple of decades, Rachel Carson did a lot of research regarding the effects of DDT on the environment, specifically about bioaccumulation in the food web. In 1962, Rachel Carson published her book “Silent Spring”, which detailed the harmful effects of pesticides and predicted that if our irresponsible use of them continued, we would start killing off species, let alone jeopardize human health.  For example, one of the effects of DDT and bioaccumulation resulted in the inability of some bird species (primarily predatory birds) to successfully reproduce because DDT weakened egg shells, resulting in eggs being crushed in the nest.  Several species (e.g., peregrine falcon, pelican) were put on the Endangered Species list because of this!

Part of a 1947 ad in Time Magazine.

Part of a 1947 ad in Time Magazine.

There was, however, a lot of money in the pesticide industry and tremendously fierce opposition to her work, which publicized the negative effects of DDT on animals and the environment.  If you simply google DDT and look through the videos that come up, you can find old footage of people being happily sprayed by CLOUDS of DDT!  Rachel Carson actually received death threats and harassment because of her work and the questions it raised about the pesticide industry.  In fact, Rachel Carson’s research and work gave rise to the modern grassroots environmental movement that has inspired generations to protect the world around us, AND resulted in the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency.  After her death (due to illnesses contracted during her treatment for breast cancer), President Carter awarded Rachel Carson the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously for her landmark work, and in 1969, the Coastal Main National Wildlife Refuge was changed to the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge.

Rachel Carson by Alfred Eisenstaedt, Time & Life Pictures, Getty Images

What an amazing woman and inspiration to younger generations of scientists!  Few scientists can claim the magnitude of influence that she had in any field, and in particular, conservation of our natural resources.  Take a look at this short video about Rachel Carson and her life’s work; there is a ton of information online as well, if you are interested in learning more (just follow any of the links I’ve provided above to start).

Additionally, just this past March (Women’s History Month), the Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Dan Ashe, honored Rachel Carson with this video.

Ladies I Love: M is for Marjane Satrapi, Graphic Novelist and Film Producer from Iran

I can’t believe I’m already writing my “M” post for the A to Z Challenge!  I’ve got another cartoonist (I think this is the last one) for today’s Lady I Love: Marjane Satrapi.  I chose Marjane Satrapi for today for two very interesting reasons:  first, she grew up in Iran under the Muslim fundamentalists who took power after the Iranian Revolution; and second, she’s an outspoken woman who lived to tell about it.

Marjane Satrapi header

Marjane Satrapi was born in Iran in 1969 and lived in a middle-class family with highly educated parents in Tehran until 1983.  During her childhood, she was rambunctious, strong-willed and outspoken, and her family feared that her behavior (and mouth) would get her into serious trouble with the authorities, who had strict behavioral codes for women.  So, her family arranged to have her study in Vienna for high school.  She returned to Tehran after a near-deadly bout of pneumonia and stayed there for several years, but now lives in Paris with her husband.

Satrapi’s childhood and teenage years are detailed in her autobiographical graphic novels, Persepolis 1 and 2.  I loved them because she grew up in an entirely different world than I did (geographically, at least, which was fascinating in and of itself), but for all those differences, I could see ways in which she was no different from many of us growing up: questions, conceptions of right and wrong, repression (in her case the government, in my case, parents), and general teenage angst.  Half a world away, and it was like I knew her!

Marjane Satrapi - Michael Jackson

In 2007, Persepolis was made into a feature film and debuted at the Cannes Film Festival.  In 2008, it was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, making Marjane Satrapi the first woman nominated for the category.  In 2011, her graphic novel “Chicken with Plums” was made into a live action movie as well.  There are several interviews with Marjane Satrapi about her work, but I found this one and this one to be very interesting – if you have the time, check them out.  And, below I’ve included the trailers for both Persepolis and Chicken with Plums.  Perhaps you will put them on your “to watch” list!

Ladies I Love: K is for Killers (and they say we’re the gentler sex…)

Killers - Keep CalmJust a heads-up: this post does contain some violence.  It’s fictional, but could be disturbing to some of you softies.

For today’s Ladies I Love post in the A to Z Challenge, we’ll be talking about killers.  Just to set the record straight, I’m not a huge fan of violence, and I don’t believe there’s a place for murder in society (heck, I’m even opposed to the death penalty).  But do you ever watch movies and wonder why so many primary action heroes (whether they are good or bad) are played by men?  And when you do see badass females in an action role, do you notice how they really stand out, and they stand out even MORE when they have at least a touch of villainous attitude about them?  If you’re like me, sometimes you just can’t help but say WOW and admire the artistry of their fighting, trickery or determination to survive by whatever means necessary.

So today I thought I’d write a little about those (fictional) women who yes, are killers, but who (in some cases) have complex backgrounds and reasons for acting the way that they do.  Others are just badasses.  Here are my top 10 favorite lady killers – how do they match up with yours?

10.  Tank Girl.  Tank Girl, played by Lori Petty in the 1995 movie of the same name, pretty much sucked.  However, I first started admiring Tank Girl (a.k.a. Rebecca Buck) as a comic character drawn by the British team of Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin several years prior to the movie.  I loved the artwork in the comics, and Tank Girl’s take-no-prisoners attitude.

9.  Aeon Flux.  This is also another movie character, played by Charlize Theron in 2005, based on a cartoon that aired on MTV’s Liquid Television during the early 1990’s.  Aeon was an acrobatic assassin in a futuristic dystopian society, fueled by imaginative science fiction story lines.

8.  Annie Wilkes.  Oooooh – this is one of my favorite roles of Kathy Bates!  Annie Wilkes was the crazy “number one fan” of Paul Sheldon, a writer who was taken in by Annie to rehabilitate after his car wrecked in the snowy mountains.  The 1990 film was adapted from Stephen King’s 1987 novel Misery and earned Bates the Academy Award for Best Actress.

7.  Haley Clark.  Ever see the movie “Hard Candy”?  Ellen Page plays a young girl in this 2005 thriller that will completely creep you out.  She basically hunts a man she suspects is a pedophile and tortures him…a truly horrific story, but a brilliant performance from Ellen Page.

6.  Hit-Girl.  Starring as a sidekick in all the “Kick Ass” movies, Hit-Girl is an 11 year old girl who is “truly dangerous and genuinely mad”.  She was raised in an environment where she wasn’t taught anything else but violent crime-fighting, and isn’t treated “like a girl” in any respect other than she wears a skirt and likes purple.

5.  Trinity.  With a starring role in the Matrix, Carrie-Anne Moss plays a computer programmer / hacker who is also skilled in martial arts.  She works with a group of like-minded rebels to crack the Matrix’s coding and free the human race.

4.  Ellen Ripley.  Is there a bigger badass in the universe than Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley in the Alien movies?  Yes, there are three of them (see 1-3 on this list).  However, Ellen Ripley is my number 4 because she is a pro at killing aliens, and anyone who wants to keep them alive.

3.  Jen.  In “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon“, Zhang Ziyi plays Jen, the pupil of Jade Fox who killed Li Mu Bai’s master.  The film is about revenge, loyalty and honor, and features amazing fighting scenes filmed in traditional martial arts style – lots of acrobatics using ropes and an abundance of skill.  Beautiful story, amazing acting.

2.  Arya Stark.  The tomboyish daughter of Ned and Catelyn Stark, Arya transforms throughout A Song of Ice and Fire from a girl chasing cats through castle halls to a murderous assassin on an unknowing journey towards the Iron Throne.  Arya is skillfully played by Maisie Williams in the TV adaptation of the novels, Game of Thrones.

And my number one favorite female killer is:

1.  Beatrix Kiddo.  In a role that seems to be crafted just for her, Uma Thurman played Beatrix Kiddo (codename Black Mamba) in both Kill Bill movies, directed by Quentin Tarantino.  A former member of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, Kiddo is attacked by her former team members and left comatose in a hospital.  But after waking and finding she has had a child, she proceeds to seek revenge and retribution from those who sought to kill her and harm her child.  Uma Thurman does an AMAZING job in her role as a huntress, survivor and martial arts superstar.

This is one of my favorite scenes from the Kill Bill movies.  It occurs when Kiddo goes to Japan to kill O-Ren Ishii (played by Lucy Liu).  However, first she has to get past Gogo and the Crazy 88!  This clip shows the battle between Kiddo, Gogo and the Crazy 88, stopping short of her fight with O-Ren Ishii.  Enjoy!

Ladies I Love: F is for Frida Kahlo

Frida KahloFrida Kahlo is one of my favorite female artists, and is therefore, perfect for my A to Z Challenge theme, Ladies I Love.  Born in Mexico City in 1907, she started painting at the age of 18 while recuperating from a bus accident in which she was impaled through the hip by a metal bar.  While at the National Preparatory School, she met famed Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, whom she later married in 1929.  They had a rather tumultuous relationship, both having affairs outside of the marriage.  A communist political activist and feminist, many of Kahlo’s paintings contained surrealist images that conveyed often controversial images of womanhood, pain (she had three miscarriages) and dreams.  She used bold colors and traditional Mexican elements in her artwork as well.

Frida Kahlo died at the age of 47 in Mexico City after several years of declining health.  Her work continues to grow in popularity, and she is seen as an icon of female creativity.  Her life story was made into the film “Frida“, starring Salma Hayek.  I encourage you to search for images of Kahlo’s paintings and enjoy her creative works yourself!  Here are a few of my favorite Frida Kahlo images:

Ladies I Love: E is for Éowyn, Badass Shieldmaiden in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy

I thought finding a Lady I Love for the letter E was going to be a tough one in the A to Z Challenge, but if you haven’t figured it out by now, I do have a bit of a geeky side to me which means literary resources abound.  And today that will manifest itself in the form of crushing on one of my favorite fictional characters, Éowyn from the Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien.  I read the trilogy many years ago, and my all-time favorite scene by far is from Return of the King, when Éowyn is fighting the Witch King during the Battle of Pelennor Fields.  Although Éowyn was a trained shieldmaiden of Rohan, her uncle, King Theoden, ordered her to stay behind with the women and children to guide their people while the men went to their almost certain doom to fight against the tides of Sauron.  She said, “screw that” and disobeyed him, dressing and acting as a man to sneak her way into the battle.  In the book, she meets the Witch King (the head of the ghost kings with the Nazgul) on the battlefield just as he has injured Theoden.  The Witch King is all, “No living man may hinder me!” because there’s a prophecy that states that the Witch King could not be felled by the hands of a man.  But Éowyn takes off her helmet and reveals herself, saying:

But no living man am I! You look upon a woman. Éowyn I am, Éomund’s daughter. You stand between me and my lord and kin. Begone, if you be not deathless! For living or dark undead, I will smite you, if you touch him.

And the dumb-ass Witch King attacks her, but surprise!  Éowyn ends up kicking his ass and killing him.  Well, Theoden still dies, but it is a fantastic scene.  The movie plays it down a little bit, but it’s still a highlight for me.  To get the full impact, you really should read the book, but here’s a clip for you to enjoy in the meantime!

Brainy Girls Update

I’m sad to report that my digital scrapbooking momentum has all but disappeared.  However, because of the law of conservation of energy, my Brainy Girls project has been thriving.  So, I just wanted to give you a brief update on how it’s going.

Running the Brainy Girls website and keeping up with its associated social media promotion actually takes quite a bit of time.  However, I’m finding that it’s finally paying off in terms of interactions with the public.  It’s starting to get some attention in several STEM communities, which is really fun.  I’ve printed up bookmarks and sent them out to those who’ve requested them, and will probably need to have more printed up soon.  Every two months I completely change all the material on the website (except for March, which is a special one-month issue) and that’s quite a bit of work to come up with new stuff related to a theme, archive the old material, and promote promote promote.  But that’s ok – I really like writing and it’s the most rewarding thing in the world when I get comments on my website. 

Want to see some numbers about public interaction?  Here they are:

Total page visits since Oct. 2012 (returning visitors included):  3033
Facebook followers:  181
Google+ followers:  255
Twitter followers:  52 (I just started Twitter this past month – it’s fun!)

Anyway, I look forward to my site growing and gaining more exposure.  I also have a Pinterest account and YouTube channel for Brainy Girls, which are kind of secondary to the other forums above.  I’m starting to get into guest blogging and have a couple of requests out there for people to write on my site – we’ll see what happens.  I have to get the kids involved somehow, which is what I’m hoping to do with guest bloggers!  And, if you have any ideas on growing Brainy Girls, let me know!