Why Amelia Earhart Just Isn't All She's Cracked Up To Be

Critics panned the biopic and the woman behind it as well

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The new movie "Amelia" never quite takes off for film critics. The biopic about famed pilot Amelia Earhart has been widely panned. More surprisingly, critics are digging into the film's subject as well, saying the real, historical Earhart--a feminist icon--is overrated. They say she was special, but no great saint. Here's why they say Earhart was more complicated than her legend suggests:

  • There Were Better Female Fliers At The New Yorker, Judith Thurman says Earhart was "saintlike only as a martyr to her own ambition," and that other woman pilots, some of them better fliers than Earhart, have been forgotten.
There were, in fact, other famous female aces in the early decades of aviation. All of them were daring--some were said to be better pilots than Earhart--and many of them were killed and forgotten. If Earhart became an "icon," it was, in part, because women who aspired to excel in any sphere, at a high altitude, looked upon her as their champion. But it was also because the unburied come back to haunt us.
  • Earhart Had a Rich and Famous Husband At The Atlantic, Lane Wallace says that's the only reason Earhart was made into a star while other, better female pilots languished in obscurity. "If none of these women's names are household words, it's not because they weren't worthy. It's because none of them had George Putnam as a husband," said Wallace, who is a pilot herself. She wants to see other women pilots like Barbara London (who Wallace profiles here) and Bessie Coleman have their day. These, Wallace says, are the women who "without any power or money connections became the best there was."
  • A Failed Fashion Designer According to Gioia Diliberto at The Huffington Post, Earhart was the first celebrity fashion designer, albeit not a very good one. "Despite a blizzard of publicity, Earhart fashion failed to catch on with the public, and the line disappeared from America's stores even before the aviatrix vanished." Diliberto says Earhart's designs were uninspiring.
"In the air, she had a touch of recklessness -- it was part of her charm, a sign of her rebellion against a world that wouldn't allow women to be adventurous, and it probably contributed to her presumed death in July, 1937 (she disappeared over the central Pacific Ocean while attempting a circum-navigational flight of the globe). Her clothes, however, were utterly safe and conventional -- basically copies of mainstream sportswear, with some gimmicky, aviation-themed trimmings."
  • Earhart Flew. She Wasn't an AngelĀ  At Jezebel, Sadie says Earhart was a good pilot in a time when there were great pilots. And, Sadie says, Earhart liked to hog the spotlight. "If you have read any of the major biographies of Earhart, it's true that even at the time, she was more complicated than we acknowledge: she was considered something of a show-boater, a fame-lover, whose PR and connections helped her eclipse the achievements of less glamorous and more dedicated female pilots, like Ruth Law, Louise Thaden or Gladys O'Donnell."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.