Why 'Amelia' Can Make Kids Brave

In Amelia, the stalwart Earhart biopic starring Hilary Swank, one thing stands out: You can take a girl out of Kansas but you can’t take the Kansas out of the girl.

The image of a young Amelia racing her horse across the landlocked state’s flat fields alongside an airplane, and her scrubbed freckled face raised to the sun like corn, gives the audience an idea that her character has been imprinted early. She is an adventurous girl rooted to the earth, a sensible girl with a passion for speed. She grows up to be secure enough in herself to follow that urge in a solo flight across the Atlantic, and in a final doomed 1937 attempt to ring the world that led to her disappearance weeks before her 40th birthday.

The strongest message that the movie sends to both girls and boys is to follow your dreams, which is different from the more selfish, 1960s idea of following your bliss. And part of that path toward your dreams is identifying what they are. When I was at college, I spent a lot of time wondering if I was a writer, seeking permission to be a writer, when even the most cursory glance in the files of my heart showed that crafting words was what I loved and wanted to do. It turns out that the first person to seek permission from in following your dreams is yourself.

Another part is finding people who believe in you as much as you do -- and ignoring those who don’t. Amelia finds a mentor (some would say Svengali) in publisher George Putnam, played by Richard Gere. When there wasn’t an existing support group, she created one, forming the Ninety-Nines, an association for female pilots. When a younger female aviator who aspires to take Amelia’s place as the number one female flyer asks for advice, Earhart tells her not to listen to the naysayers.

As a mother, with both a daughter and a son, it’s crucial to listen to their dreams with the attention with which a doctor employs a stethoscope. We can try to take our child’s love of the family cat and steer them toward veterinary school. But if they love to sing, we can search out choruses, and music teachers, and not try to curate it into a career at the Metropolitan Opera, or worry when they’re only 13 that they’ll never find a paying gig. One of the greatest gifts a parent can give is to provide a safe nest for their children to dream, and nurture their passions, because life is long and so much sweeter when you’re doing the thing that you love.

Sure, Amelia disappeared somewhere over the Pacific in 1937, but she made a conscious choice to fly into the sun, to have those moments of solitude with the universe where she was piloting her own plane, driving her own destiny. Her mother would have been proud -- and as global as her flights were, her legacy is remembered locally in her native Atchison, Kansas, where her birthplace is a national historic site and the airport, a bridge, and a festival all bear her name.

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