Civil Rights Leader and Minnesota’s First Black Female Attorney Lena O. Smith Is Getting a Biopic

Lena O. Smith, a civil rights leader and trailblazing lawyer, will soon be getting her own feature film. A biopic about Smith, the first African American woman attorney to be licensed in Minnesota, is in the works at Minneapolis production company Winterstate Entertainment. Deadline confirms casting on the project is now underway.

Born in 1885, Smith was a self-made professional and worked as a hairdresser and real estate agent before pursuing a career in law. While studying at Northwestern College of Law, she worked with the NAACP and helped file suits against discriminatory businesses, participated in the investigation of a lynching, and found legal representation for Black citizens standing trial. She served as president of the NAACP’s Minneapolis branch from 1930-1939.

The untitled pic will tell the story of Smith’s most famous case. In 1931, she represented Arthur and Edith Lee, a Black couple whose purchase of a home in a white South Minneapolis neighborhood was violently protested by a white mob. “Shoring up political allies and police protection, Smith counseled the couple to stand their ground,” the source describes.

Hamid Torabpour is penning the script and is among the producers. A director will soon be announced.

“In 1921, Lena O. Smith filed her first lawsuit challenging housing discrimination, just 11 days after becoming Minnesota’s first Black woman attorney,” Jonathan Weinhagen, President and CEO of Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce revealed. “Her goal was not just to win cases, but to give a voice and visibility to African Americans being cheated out of their homes, their safety, and their rights. Her legacy of leadership for housing and equality lives on today and represents a vital part of Minneapolis history.” He continued, “We’re looking forward to working with the filmmakers coming to Minneapolis to help tell her story, and we hope that the production of this film will be part of the healing process for the city.”

“In the wake of the protests that have shaken the nation, there are strikingly modern echoes in the life and times of lawyer and activist Lena O. Smith. We find it especially profound that George Floyd was murdered less than ten blocks from where Lena bravely stood in the face of danger, to fight her landmark battle against injustice,” Torabpour said. “With all that has transpired in Minnesota, we are compelled to tell this amazing woman’s story and hope that it inspires people to create the change that we all need.”

Producer Kenneth L. Brandy added, “By bringing Lena O. Smith’s story to light, we aim to honor Lena’s legacy and that of so many others, including my late mother, who became icons in the continuing fight for civil rights. There’s a parallel to the issues that have in the past and continue to affect the African American community today. The relevancy between then and now is based around policy and those in power that execute those policies. Americans must continue to speak out, hold accountable, and correct the wrongs that policy and those in power have inflicted upon African Americans for centuries.”

Smith died in 1966 at the age of 81. Her South Minneapolis home is now a historical site, and the Minnesota Black Women’s Lawyer Network hosts a luncheon in her honor every year.

July 30, 2020
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