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Interview with Filmmaker for Invisible Warriors: African American Women in World War II

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

A team of scholars and award winning directors got together to develop probably one of the most important documentaries of the year. Though most Americans have no knowledge of it.

The film Invisible Warriors: African American Women in World War II is a documentary about the 600,000 African American women that were recruited and enlisted for war production, government offices, and the U.S. military, for the very first time in American history. These women were "Rosie The Riveters". Though history has done very little to acknowledge their efforts.

The documentary discloses personal interviews with women who lived nearly a century, and survived to reveal their accounts of progress and discountenance throughout the World War II era. Interviewees include the late Dr. Dorothy Height, a civil and women's rights activist, president of the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW), to women warriors serving in the military and other type of positions, that were revolutionary to women. World War II made it possible for these women to openly take on professional trades, for the very first time in history. There was a sense of pride. On the downside, there was a considerable amount of prejudice. African American women showed bouts of intelligence that were equal to men, and of whites, contrary to popular beliefs. Even though African American women were unaware of the magnitude of such stride, they gladly traded in domestic service roles that simply paid $5 a week, to obtain skilled positions that amounted to $50 dollars per week. This was a huge deal for Black women, especially since many had been poor and reduced to the lowest type of labor.

Historian and educator Gregory S. Cooke is the producer for the film. His mother, Ethel Rebecca Jones was an inspiration for the project. In 1943, at the age of 18, she obtained a job in Washington, D.C. as a clerk typist at the U.S. Patents office, a job which was formerly held by white men. Though his mother never talked about those early years, not even the mephitis of segregation, he was able to ascertain part of her story, through the many women being interviewed. Cooke felt that these women were deserving of recognition, equal to the rest of the women that contributed to the era. He also noted that Anne Currie, a Correspondent and Anchor for NBC had recently did a television special to honor "Rosie the Riveters", women workers throughout World War II. Fifty women were present. None of them were African American. If it wasn't for women, the nation would not have had its success. Both black and white women have been greatly discounted for their efforts. Black women have been immensely subdued.

Although African American women were able to move into unconventional roles, their opportunities were restrained. Promotions were reserved only for white women. Racism was firmly entrenched in the core of almost every appointment, including the military. On some levels, the momentum was positive for these Black Riveters, but the obstacles proved to be daunting and fixed. Yet these women were stalwart and devoted. After all, their brothers and fathers were serving in the military. The war was personal. They were patriots and were called to service. 

As the war came to a close, many African American women returned to their former roles. Some got married like Cooke's mother. Yet their perception about being black and being a woman had changed. Cooke noted that WWII may have been one of the best things that happened to African Americans, throughout the 20th century. African Americans were irrevocably employed in some industries. This brought fruition to their working roles and a developing mindset. Black women discovered that "they could do it!", just like anyone else.

Inequality still persists well throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. Women are marginalized; minorities are often diminished, making this film necessary to produce. Yet regardless of the major-league quality and press appearances, donations for the film are incredibly slim. This is why the budget has been cut in half to $10,000. Cooke feels that people are still complacent and dispassionate about history. There isn't a great level of interest for projects such as these. Filmmakers are reduced to scraping up menial funds. 

Many women have noted that they were not aware of this part of history. Knowing that, the project plans to donate itself to educational, cultural, and civic organizations.  It becomes  a win-win for children, especially African American girls who are oversaturated with hyper-sexual images of themselves, in the media and hip-hop industries. Projects such as these promote positive self images in girls. Girls become women with a level understanding of their past, in contemplation of a virile future.

The Invisible Warriors Film is in post-production and plans to release in the near future.


Gregory S. Cooke is also the Associate Director for the previous documentary, "Choc ’late Soldiers from the USA", a documentary about African American soldiers throughout WWII. He teaches at Drexel University and The Community College of Philadelphia.

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