Actress Renée Zellweger is slated to star in a TV drama series inspired by the Women Airforce Service Pilots.
According to Variety Magazine, Zellweger, 52, will play the role of WASP founder Jacqueline Cochran. Cochran, a record-setting aviatrix led the WASP program during World War II.
Avenger Field is a one-hour drama series still in development by MGM Television. The program takes its name from the historic WASP training base located in Sweetwater, Texas. Between 1942 and 1944, Cochran led thousands of women who volunteered to fly for their country, despite roadblocks thrown up by the military and society, many of whom were skeptical that women could fly military aircraft.
In addition to performing, Zellweger will reportedly be a co-executive producer. There was no information on whether Zellweger would be taking flying lessons in preparation for the role.
Seasoned Hollywood writer Felicia D. Henderson is attached to the project as writer, showrunner, and executive producer. Her resume includes hit sitcoms such as Family Matters and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. More recently, Henderson worked on the science fiction action series Marvel’s The Punisher.
Susanna White will direct and executive produce; her body of work spans decades and includes everything from BBC miniseries to Star Wars Ardor, slated for release this year.
The story of the WASP is often ignored or at best a footnote in history books. More than 25,000 women applied for training. Of that, only 1,879 candidates were accepted, and 1,074 successfully completed training. Upon graduation, the WASP towed targets for artillery practice, ferried aircraft, taught men to fly, and performed test flights for the military.
Although they wore military uniforms and flew military aircraft, they were not considered “military” and thus were not eligible for services or assistance that other members of the military received. For example, when a WASP was killed in training—and 38 were—a collection was taken up to ship the body home. When the program was quietly disbanded in 1944, the women were told to go home, and in the words of Mary J. Sturdevant WASP Class of 44-W-7, “Keep their mouths shut.”
The women were not recognized as veterans until 1977. In 2010, the WASP were presented the Congressional Gold Medal at a ceremony in Washington D.C.
Over the years, there have been a few documentaries about the WASP; fictionalized accounts of their history are often presented with varying levels of authenticity.
“We often have people who do research for different entertainment programs,” notes Sheila Bickle, the special collections and research support manager for the WASP archives at Texas Woman’s University. The school, located in Denton, Texas, has an extensive collection of WASP documentation, including training records and WASP personal papers. “We provide the information, and sometimes they do take creative license to tell the story, and other times they are surprised at what they find and say, ‘this is going to be great,'” Bickle says.
The date for the release of Avenger Field has not been determined.
Zellweger is no stranger to playing roles of strong women. In 2020, she earned an Academy Award for her portrayal of Judy Garland in Judy.