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Cinema and Media Studies Women and Film
Lucy Fischer
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 October 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0150


“Women and Film” encompasses numerous issues in academic film studies, including the histories of female practitioners in the industry; the works they produced; female audiences; female critics, historians, archivists, and theorists; and the portrayals of women on the movie screen. In the early years of cinema, women played a significant role in filmmaking (e.g., the director Lois Weber and the scenarist Frances Marion in the United States), but these individuals were soon forgotten as the industry became male dominated. Thus, it was not until the rise of second-wave feminism in the 1970s and 1980s that the work of these pioneers was revived and documented. By then, of course, another generation of female filmmakers had surfaced internationally (e.g., Lina Wertmuller in Italy and Margarethe von Trotta in Germany). Not only were the careers of these artists studied, but also their works were analyzed in monographs and articles, often focusing on whether or not they evinced a specific female point of view or style. Female critics and theorists were also known in the silent era (e.g., H. D. (Hilda Doolittle) in the United States and Iris Barry in the United Kingdom), but it was not until the contemporary period that a field of feminist film history, criticism, and theory emerged. This comprised several subareas: readings of the images of women in film—be it flapper or femme fatale; studies of women in particular film genres; monographs on individual artists; analyses of iconic actresses; analyses of female audiences; and formulations of feminist theory. In the 21st century, the field has expanded further to correct certain prejudices and limitations. An early emphasis on the white woman has been rectified by studies of race and ethnicity. The latest scholarship has also moved beyond a concentration on the United States and Europe to embrace studies of women and film in Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa. Finally, while early writing on the topic privileged the heterosexual female (as screen subject and viewer), more recent writing has examined questions of lesbianism, bisexuality, and the transgendered body as applied to questions of women and cinema.

Anthologies and Textbooks

These are edited collections of essays that include pieces by various authors (critics, theorists, filmmakers) on broad topics related to issues of women and film. Many of them can be used as introductory texts for classes on women and film, gender and film, or film theory

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