Some day, we will live in a world where it will be obsolete and even absurd to point out that someone was the "first woman" to accomplish this or that achievement. For some us, that day has already arrived internally at least. But for those still untamed corners of the human psyche where differences of gender, race and ethnicity become an excuse for discrimination or even abuse, it must be noted whenever anyone from such a group does something wonderful that makes all of humanity stand up and cheer.
Thus, let it be noted that on January 11, 1935, Amelia Earhart - in the first solo flight of its kind by anyone - flew 2400 miles between Honolulu, Hawaii, and Oakland, California. It took 18 hours to make the journey. That's 18 hours flying solo.
Three years earlier, in May of 1932, she had already matched Charles Lindbergh's trans-Atlantic solo flight, making her the first woman to do so. The U.S. Congress awarded her the Distinguished Flying Cross to mark the accomplishment.
It is a matter of history that she perished in 1937 when her plane was lost over the Pacific Ocean somewhere between New Guinea and Howland Island. But that "perishing" was the end of her physical life only. Not her legacy and not her courageous, pioneering spirit either.
Decades later, on January 11, 1978, Toni Morrison won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Song of Solomon. She had already written two other novels, The Bluest Eye and Sula. But the recognition she received on this day in 1978 gave her literary standing and a certain clout she did not have before. Morrison went on to receive the Pulitzer Prize in 1988 for Beloved and became the first African-American woman to receive the Nobel Prize for literature in 1993.
Which brings us to today and the stunning list of nominations for Ava Duvernay's film, Selma. This evening, when envelopes are opened and announcements are made during the Golden Globe Awards, the world will discover whether she will become the first African-American female director to win this award. Whatever the outcome, we wish her well.
But here's the thing: it does not matter if she "wins." Not really. As any creative person will tell you, her true victory came during the making of the film. What will happen for her after tonight is anyone's guess. But it is a question worth asking, which is exactly what Terri Gross did a few days ago when she interviewed Duvernay about the film on NPR's Fresh Air. Listening to her responses, you will see why this film, which could have resorted to sentimental cliche in lesser hands, has garnered the enthusiasm and recognition it most certainly deserves. In the meantime, let us all raise a glass to the day that is coming - when one's race, gender or ethnicity will hardly be a matter worth talking about.
Fresh Air Interview with Ava Duvernay