Women's cinema  

From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia

(Redirected from Women's Cinema)
Jump to: navigation, search

Related e



Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
The term women's cinema usually refers to the work of women film directors. It can also designate the work of other women behind the camera such as cinematographers and screenwriters. Although the participation of women film editor, costume designers, and production designers is usually not considered to be decisive enough to justify the term "women's cinema", it does have a large influence on the visual impression of any movie.


Silent films

Alice Guy-Blaché made the very first feature film La fée aux choux in 1896. More than 300 films followed. She worked in France and the U.S.. Lois Weber was among the most successful film directors of the silent era. Actresses like Lillian Gish, Mary Pickford, and others were the stars.

Classic Hollywood

In the twenties large banks had assured control on Hollywood production companies. Production supervisors began to standardize film making. The introduction of sound demanded new investments which further increased the control of the banks. In 1929 Hollywood accepted a list of taboos which was later to become the Hays Code. Any unconventional film maker had a hard time. Women film makers could afford economic failures even less. Dorothy Arzner was the only women film maker to survive in this unfriendly environment. She did so by producing well made but formally rather conventional films. Nevertheless, she succeeded in smuggling in feminist elements into her films.

Experimental and avant-garde cinema

Germaine Dulac was a leading member of the French Avantgarde film movement after World War I, and Maya Deren's visionary films belong to the classics of experimental cinema.

Shirley Clarke was a leading figure of the independent American film scene in New York in the fifties. Her work is unusual, insofar as she directed outstanding experimental and feature films as well as documentaries. Joyce Wieland was a Canadian experimental film maker. The National Film Board of Canada allowed many women to produce non-commercial animation films. In Europe women artists like Valie Export where among the first to explore the artistic and political potential of videos.

Impact of second-wave feminism

In the late sixties, when the Second Wave of Feminism started the New Left was at its height. Both movements strongly opposed the 'dominant cinema', i.e. Hollywood and male European bourgeois auteur cinema. Hollywood was accused of furthering oppression by disseminating sexist, racist and imperialist stereotypes. Women participated in mixed new collectives like Newsreel, but they also formed their own film groups. Early feminist films often focused on personal experiences. A first masterpiece was Wanda by Barbara Loden, one of the most poignant portraits of alienation ever made.

Representing sexuality

Resisting the oppression of female sexuality was one of the core goals of Second Wave Feminism. Abortion was still very controversial in many western societies and the feminists opposed the control of the state and the church. Exploring female sexuality took many forms: focusing on long-time censured forms of sexuality (lesbianism, sado-masochism) or showing 'normal' heterosexuality from a woman's point of view. Birgit Hein, Elfi Mikesch, Nelly Kaplan, Catherine Breillat and Barbara Hammer are some of the directors to be remembered.

Resisting violence and violent resistance

Resting patriarchal violence has always been a key concern of Second Wave Feminism. Consequently many feminists of the second wave have taken part in the peace movements of the eighties, as had their foremothers in the older pacifist movements. Nevertheless the patriarchal cliché of the 'peaceable' woman needed to be criticized. Women film directors documented the participation of women in anti-imperialist resistance movements. In their Kali films Birgit and Wilhelm Hein assembled found footage from 'trivial' genres, the only domain of cinema in which the portrayal of aggressive women was allowed.

African-American women's cinema

Julie Dash's Daughters of the Dust (1992) was the first full-length film with general theatrical release by an African-American woman. A long history of films by African-American women had preceded this achievement. Neema Barnette (Civil Brand), Maya Angelou (Down in the Delta), Kasi Lemmons (Eve's Bayou), Cheryl Dunye (My Baby's Daddy), Stephanie Allain (Biker Boyz), and Dianne Houston (City of Angels) are among these filmmakers.


The first African woman film director to gain international recognition was the Senegalese ethnologist Safi Faye with a film about the village in which she was born (Letter from the village, 1975). Other African women filmmakers include Sarah Maldoror, Anne Mungai, Fanta Régina Nacro.


Mira Nair, Aparna Sen, Deepa Mehta and Gurinder Chadha are among the best known Indian women filmmakers, partly because of commericial success of their films. However there are a number of other Indian women filmmakers who have made some remarkable films that address a variety of issues. Other noteworthy Indian women filmmakers include Nisha Ganatra, Sonali Gulati, Indu Krishnan, Eisha Marjara, Pratibha Parmar, Nandini Sikand, and Shashwati Talukdar.

In Japan for a long time Kinuyo Tanaka was the only woman to make feature films. She was able to do this against fierce resistance because she enjoyed a status as star actress. Using genre conventions her films showed women "with a humorous affection rare in Japanese cinema of the period" (Philip Kemp).


Rakhshan Bani-Etemad, writer and director is probably Iran's best known and certainly most prolific female filmmaker. She's established herself as the elder stateswoman of Iranian cinema with documentaries and films dealing with social pathology. Samira Makhmalbaf directed her first film The Apple when she had only 17 years old and won Cannes Jury Prize in 2000 for her following film The Blackboard.

Latin American

Marta Rodriguez is a Colombian documentary film maker.


Elvira Notari was a pioneer of Italian cinema.

During the "golden age" of "Classical" French cinema Jacqueline Audry was the only woman to direct commercial movies. In 1959 writer Marguerite Duras wrote the script for Alain Resnais' Hiroshima mon Amour. She turned to directing with La Musica in 1966. Among the best known French women film makers are Agnès Varda, Claire Denis, Nelly Kaplan. The work of many more French female directors is rarely screened outside France.

German woman filmmaker Helke Sander was also one of the pioneers of the feminist movement. Other prominent female film-makers include Margarethe von Trotta and Helma Sanders-Brahms.

In Hungary Marta Meszaros has been making important films for decades.

Sally Potter is a prominent British feminist film maker. British filmmaker Ngozi Onwurah explores the legacies of colonialism.

(Re-)entering the mainstream?

Since the beginning of sound cinema, with very few exceptions, the films of women had been absent from mainstream cinema for more than half a century. Sometimes actresses enjoying a star status turned to directing (like Barbra Streisand). Thelma & Louise and The Color Purple showed the acceptability of feminist themes – when the director was a man.

Kathryn Bigelow works in male-dominated genres like science fiction, action and horror. Dörris Dörrie landed a box office hit with her satire Men. Italian Lina Wertmüller has directed a great number of popular films on the war of the sexes, with various artistic success.



  • Ally Acker, Reel Women. Pioneers of the Cinema. 1896 to the Present, London: B.T. Batsford 1991
  • Attwood, Lynne, Ed., Red Women on the Silver Screen: Soviet Women and Cinema from the Beginning to the End of the Communist Era, London: Pandora 1993
  • Jacqueline Bobo (ed.), Black Women Film and Video Artists (AFI Film Readers), Routledge 1998
  • Russell Campbell, Marked Women: Prostitutes and Prostitution in the Cinema University of Wisconsin Press 2005
  • Ellerson, Beti, Sisters of the screen : women of Africa on film, video and television, Trenton, NJ [u.a.] : Africa World Press, 2000
  • Lucy Fischer, Shot/Countershot: Film Tradition and Women's Cinema, Princeton University Press 1989
  • G.A. Foster, Women Film Directors (1995)
  • Kenneth W. Harrow, ed., With open eyes : women and African cinema , Amsterdam [u.a.] : Rodopi, 1997 (=Matatu - Journal for African Culture and Society)
  • Claire Johnston, "Women's Cinema as Counter-Cinema" (1975) in: Claire Johnston (ed.), Notes on Women's Cinema, London: Society for Education in Film and Television, reprinted in: Sue Thornham (ed.), Feminist Film Theory. A Reader, Edinburgh University Press 1999, pp. 31-40
  • Julia Knight, Women and the New German Cinema, Verso 1992
  • Denise Lowe, An encyclopedic dictionary of women in early American films, 1895 - 1930, New York, NY [u.a.] : Haworth Press, 2005
  • Judith Mayne, The Woman at the Keyhole: Feminism and Women's Cinema, Indiana University Press 1990
  • Janis L- Pallister, French-Speaking Women Film Directors: A Guide, Fairleigh Dickinson Univ Press 1998
  • Sarah Projansky, Watching Rape: Film and Television in Postfeminist Culture, New York University Press 2001
  • Quart, Barbara Koenig: Women Directors: The Emergence of a New Cinema, Praeger 1988
  • Judith Redding, Victoria A. Brownworth, Film Fatales: Independent Women Directors, Seal Press 1997, based on interviews with 33 film makers
  • Rich, B. Ruby. Chick Flicks: Theories and Memories of the Feminist Film Movement. Durham, N. C.: Duke University Press, 1998.
  • Carrie Tarr with Brigitte Rollet, Cinema and the Second Sex. Women's Filmmaking in France in the 1980s and 1990s, New York, Continuum, 2001.
  • Amy L. Unterburger, ed., The St. James Women Filmmakers Encyclopedia: Women on the Other Side of the Camera, Paperback, Visible Ink Press 1999 – excellent resource
  • Women Filmmakers: Refocusing, edited by Jacqueline Levitin, Judith Plessis and Valerie Raoul, Paperback Edition, Routledge 2003


  • Camera Obscura
  • Frauen und Film
  • Women and Film
  • Jump Cut
  • New German Critique

Films (small selection)

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Women's cinema" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

Personal tools