From the first time she saw the Disney movie, “Fantasia,” Anika Noni Rose knew that she wanted to be a part of a Disney film. In 2009 her childhood wish came true when she became Disney’s first black princess in the animated movie “Princess and the Frog.”
Born September 6, 1972, Rose was raised in Bloomfield, Connecticut, the daughter of Claudia and John Rose, Jr. As a child, she was a voracious reader. She read every book she could get her hands on – even those forbidden by her parents due to her age. She is still an avid reader today – working on two books at a time, she will finish each in a day or two.
When she was younger, Rose would imitate other people, copying the way strangers walked and spoke. This early bit of acting research can still be seen in the way she approaches her roles today, meticulously studying the time period and mannerisms of similar characters.
Her parents made sure that she had role models and dolls that looked like her. After seeing Snow White, she asked her mother if there would ever be a Chocolate Brown.
Growing up, her parents took her and her brother to New York City to see theater, dance and opera performances, but it was not until her freshman year of high school at Bloomfield High, when she was cast in the musical Fame, that she seriously considered a career in acting.
She has always been active and loves to run, throw, kick and jump. At Bloomfield High she was on the track and field team. Her athleticism comes from her grandmother who founded the Tigerettes, and all-black, all-girls Industrial League softball team in the 1940’s.
Continuing to follow in her grandmother’s footsteps, Rose attended college at Florida A&M University and earned her bachelor’s degree in theater in 1994. She then studied acting at American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco and earned her master of fine arts degree in 1998. While at ACT, received her first acting awards: Garland/Drama-Logue Award and the Dean Goodman Choice Award for her role in Athol Fugard’s Valley Song at the Berkeley Repertory Theater.
Rose moved back to the East Coast in 1999 and soon landed the role of Rusty in the musical Footloose in 2000. The following year she appeared in Me and Mrs. Jones with Lou Rawls in Philadelphia, followed by Eli’s Comin’, an off-Broadway revue that won her an Obie Award.
In 2003, Rose was cast in the musical Caroline, or Change, originating the role of Emmie Thibodeaux. Her critically acclaimed performance won her the 2004 Tony Award for best featured actress in a musical, as well as the Theater World award, Lucile Lortel Award, Clarence Derwent Award, Los Angeles Critics Circle Award and a Drama Desk Award nomination.
Doors began to open to Rose in Hollywood. In 2005 she was cast in the movie Dreamgirls as Lorrell Robinson, starring alongside Beyonce and Jennifer Hudson.
In 2009, Disney broke its 72-year streak of only animating white princesses, and animated the E.D. Baker story, “The Princess Frog,” based on the Grimm fairy tale, “The Princess and the Frog.” Work on the film took three years, and while the animators surprised her by making Princess Tiana look like her, she was able to make suggestions for the character, including having Tiana be left handed, a little subtlety Anika, who is also left-handed, wanted to let left-handed little girls know they are not alone.
Anika has sung all over the world, including at the 79th Annual Academy Awards, concerts in London’s West End with Jason Robert Brown, the Vatican, the Kennedy Center and Carnegie Hall. She made her solo cabaret debut in New York as part of Lincoln Center’s American Songbook Series, followed by a concert at the Broad Stage in Los Angeles and appearances at the legendary Venetian Room in San Francisco. She is the celebrity spokesperson for the American Lung Association and has lobbied on Capitol Hill on their behalf, and started The Cora Lee Bentley Radcliffe memorial Fund, to assist mentally challenged children. She received her MFA from American Conservatory Theater and holds an honorary Doctorate from Florida A&M University.
During This Time
1966 - Today: Struggle for Justice
Feminism in the late 1960s was aided by President Kennedy, who formed the President’s Commission on the Status of Women in 1961, and his successor, President Johnson, who backed passage of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibiting discrimination based on race, sex, national origin, or religion. Difficulties in implementing the law through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) led a group of women in 1966 to create the National Organization for Women (NOW), demanding “action to bring American women into full participation in the mainstream of American society now.”
A younger group called for a more radical approach to social change than simply considering what was possible to achieve politically. “Women’s liberation” demanded freedom without limitation. Some took part in consciousness-raising groups, others demonstrated against the Miss America pageant, and many discussed their expectations of mutual enjoyment of sex. They established rape crisis centers, domestic shelters, and women’s studies programs. Title IX of the federal Education Amendments Act also increased pressure on universities to hire more women faculty and expand the number of female college athletes. Activist protest among gays and lesbians, such as the Stonewall Riot, symbolized this group’s potential to resist oppression.
Under pressure, many states repealed legislation prohibiting abortion. In 1973, the Supreme Court legalized its availability to women in Roe v. Wade. Also in 1973, the Senate and the House of Representatives passed the ERA, and states began its ratification.
Yet, dissension arose in the ranks of the movement, as it had earlier after passage of the 19th amendment. Feminists disagreed as to whether pornography should be banned or protected as a form of free speech, and whether lesbian identities should be kept secret or disclosed. Black women were more concerned with poverty and welfare in their communities than with personal career advancement; for them, sterilization abuse was more important than abortion, and they were deeply insulted by attacks on the African American family as matriarchal and dysfunctional.
A backlash was growing in the 1970s, along with a New Right in politics. The ERA was defeated and opposition to abortion increased. Conflicts between pro-life and pro-choice candidates have impacted every presidential campaign since then.
Still, gains have been made in many areas. From 1960 to 2000, increasing numbers of women sought entry to higher education, and bachelor’s degrees awarded to them increased from forty to sixty percent. Definitions of marriage have changed, as when courts gave full rights and responsibilities and the name of marriage to same-sex civil unions in Connecticut in 2008. The Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings in 1991 highlighted concern about sexual harassment on the job, and the number of sexual harassment cases filed with the EEOC have increased, as have judgments in favor of the women. Finally, in 2009, women crossed the fifty percent threshold and became the majority of the American workforce. Once largely confined to repetitive manual jobs, now they are running organizations that once treated them as second-class citizens.
The Women’s Movement has changed women’s lives, influenced the economy, and made debate about their roles, family life, and sexual conventions central to national politics and American history.
Special thanks to Barbara E. Lacey, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of History, St. Joseph's College (Hartford, CT) for preparing these historical summaries.