Symposium Review. Broad Strokes: Trailblazing Comedy Screenwriters

Exclusively for WFTHN members, Jay Bamber presents a comprehensive and lively review of a packed one-day symposium on women writers and screen comedy, held at the BFI, Southbank in October 2018.

Broad Strokes: Trailblazing Comedy Screenwriters
28/10/2018 – BFI Southbank

Speakers
Pamela Hutchinson – ‘Anita Loos: The Soubrette of Satire’
Gail Renard – ‘Carla Lane: Writings of a Liver Bird’
Deborah Jermyn – ‘”I’ll Have What She’s Having”: Nora Ephron’s Brilliant Screenwriting’
Julia Havas – ‘Dry Humping in the Outer Boroughs: Tina Fey and the Image of the Female’ Ashanti Omkar – ‘Mindy Kaling: Breaking Boundaries with Comedy’

Event flyer can be found here.

Hosted by the British Film Institute, as part of their wider Comedy Genius season, Broad Strokes: Trailblazing Comedy Screenwriters narrowed the focus of the season to engage with some of the female screenwriters, past and present, who have challenged comedic norms, helped construct a female comedic language and enriched the visual comedic landscape.

Film journalist Pamela Hutchinson began the discussion of female comedy writers with an analysis of the work of Anita Loos, whose success and influence in the silent film era offers an instructive case study of the difficulties that female creatives experienced in the transition from silent to sound cinema. Hutchinson provided fascinating biographical detail of Loos to examine how her public persona informed her film work and contributed to her ability to tackle taboo subjects, including female sexuality. Examples of Loos’s intertitles were used to illustrate her sharp, risqué comedic style and clips demonstrated her keen interest in the relationship between sex and power in conventional heterosexual romance narratives. Hutchinson provided important cultural and industry context to point out the enormous role that women screenwriters (as well as editors, producers and designers) played in the silent era, as well as to illuminate Loos’s creative partnerships with legends such as D.W. Griffith (who referred to Loos as “the most brilliant woman in the world”) and Douglas Fairbanks. Loos was also famous for her literary output and Hutchinson carefully mapped how the cultural success of the novel Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1925) indicated Loos’s exceptional authorial cultural capital for that time, making her a unique figure in early sound cinema.

BAFTA-winning comedy writer and producer Gail Renard turned her attention to the Liverpudlian writer/creator Carla Lane, situating her analysis around the British sitcoms The Liver Birds (BBC1, 1969 – 1979) and Butterflies (BBC 2, 1978 – 1983). Renard contextualised the dynamic, multifaceted female characters of The Liver Birds, co-created by Lane and Mayra Taylor, by revealing statistics regarding the rarity of female sitcom writers in 1970s UK television and contrasting the show with parallel (male-centred) texts such as The Likely Lads (BBC 2, 1964 – 1966). Renard demonstrated how scenes of four female characters talking together were an anomaly for the time and an illustration of The Liver Birds’ commitment to the revelatory, comedic potential of the female voice and female-centric interactions, including Lane and Taylor’s confident tackling of everyday experiences to produce an emotionally-nuanced comedic sensibility within the sitcom genre.

Deborah Jermyn offered insight and analysis into the films of Nora Ephron analysing how the popular comedy screenwriter maintained an unusual level of prestige and industry respect whilst working in the often undervalued romantic comedy genre. This analysis led directly into the following Q&A on the often problematic cultural reception of female-oriented comedy, which positions it as “frivolous” – a term which is often used derogatively to describe the genre in which Ephron excelled creatively. Jermyn’s presentation focussed on When Harry Met Sally (Reiner, 1989), Sleepless In Seattle (Ephron, 1993), and You’ve Got Mail (Ephron, 1998), the Ephron films which have gained the greatest cultural capital, symbolised by their contributions to the cultural lexicon. In keeping with the theme of the conference, Jermyn also illustrated the ways in which these films elevate the female point of view and legitimise female emotional responses, even when the female characters don’t always seem to take precedence on the page.

Julia Havas focussed her analysis on the comedic image and contribution of Tina Fey, paying particular attention to how Fey constructs and problematises the image of the female comedy writer. Havas discussed how Fey navigates the pretty/funny binary often employed to analyse female comedians, pointing to Fey’s description of herself as a writer first and a performer second. Havas argued that Fey’s more cerebral public identity as a writer helps to legitimise her feminist point of view.

Radio broadcaster Ashanti Omkar turned her attention to Mindy Kaling, who, like Tina Fey, is a show creator, writer, producer and performer – most known for her work on The Office (NBC, 2005-2013) and The Mindy Project (FOX, 2012 – 2015, HULU, 2015 – 2017). Omkar demonstrated how Kaling’s Indian heritage and her comedic persona places her in a unique position to explore diasporic identity more self-reflexively on popular television and to subvert stereotypes through a comedic lens, pointing out the particular nuance placed on romantic comedy tropes through Kaling’s casting as an under-represented minority at their centre. Omkar also highlighted how Kaling has fostered a relationship with her audience separately via social media and book publication.

Many of the themes of the individual presentations were brought together and further scrutinized in the panel discussion. Topics discussed included: female access to creative pursuits, the role of genre in female writing and diversity in comedy screenwriting. At the beginning of the event, it was suggested that screenwriting has always been a “breeding ground” for female comedic talent, even if women’s contribution to comedy (and notions of comedic genius) have often been ignored. The papers that made up Broad Strokes: Trailblazing Comedy Screenwriters more than proved that point by demonstrating how these screenwriters make what is important to them personally, important to their comedy writing. The symposium particularly revealed how these women use the comedic space to uncover new stories and new languages to bring fresh political and social attitudes into the comedic landscape.

Jay Bamber is currently studying for a PhD at Roehampton University after completing a BA and an MA at the same institution. His interests are centred on genre and how it functions in film and television, including romantic comedy. His thesis explores the relationship between the horror genre and The Disney Corporation.

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New Publication: British Women Amateur Filmmakers. National Memories and Global Identities.

On the publication of their book, British Women Amateur Filmmakers. National Memories and Global Identities, Annamaria Motrescu-Mayes and Heather Norris Nicholson give an exclusive insight into the writing and research undertaken for WFTHN members.

bwaf

As taboos and patriarchal structures receded in the early twentieth century, societal and geo-political changes enabled, or required, women to live, work and behave differently from their predecessors.  More women became involved in amateur film production, both during the two decades following the First World War, when recreational filmmaking gained popularity as a costly hobby, and then again following the Second World War. At home and abroad, their self-expression and social purpose found fresh outlets via amateur filmmaking. Access to cine equipment, via family, friends and interest groups, enabled women to engage with film production in and away from where they lived and worked. Our book examines how and where British women amateur filmmakers produced and showed their films, what those experiences reveal about the women holding the cameras and the profoundly-changing twentieth century world they captured on film.

The book contextualises those early British amateur filmmakers’ experiences within their national and late colonial settings and then explores how it is possible to trace this activity through the twentieth-century: from these ‘reel’ pioneers to their successors, the digital amateur media makers of today. Our research revealed how they have been an often under-represented and undifferentiated presence within amateur film studies literature.

Through the prism of amateur cine/media practice, defined as the making and interpretation of films for personal and wider non-commercial use, we explore the impact of social, cultural and technological change on women’s lives. The study draws directly on archival evidence of women’s own capacity to film and the subject matter captured by their cinematic gaze. Their non-fiction footage is the main focus, although their involvement in other genres, particularly animation, is also considered, as is their significant contribution to club activities within the amateur film movement in Britain and elsewhere.   

figure 8.1 her second birthday

Figure 1: Still frame from K. Agnes Thubron: ‘Her Second Birthday’ (1932-3). © EAFA.

Their non-fiction films, in particular, tell a story about how they negotiated and documented social change as they cine-narrated their own lives and those of others through their cameras. Recovering these neglected endeavours expands our understanding of women’s amateur visual practice during decades that also saw professional production opportunities slowly opening for women. Indeed, early promotional materials suggest that, as from the earliest years of large-scale cinema production, women were involved not only as performers but also possibly as users of amateur cinematographic equipment within documentary production (Marion and Ruby Grierson, Evelyn Spice, Kay Mander, Jill Craigie), animation (Joy Batchelor) and educational broadcasting (Mary Field). Most importantly, successive generations of cine-women such as Eleanore Dalyell, Rosie Newman, Barbara Donaldson, Beryl Armstrong, Audrey Lewis and Wilma Gladstone filmed during decades when national boundaries and identities were transformed by war and independence movements within the British Empire.Their filmmaking also occured as Britain’s self-assurance at home and in the wider world was giving way to new national uncertainties and domestic preoccupations, visible in Ellaline Jennings’ adolescent school girls visiting the Lake District in the early postwar years or Kathleen Lockwood’s poignant record of industrial decline in northern England during the 1970s.

Evolving visual literacies surface through each successive generation as they experimented with the novelty of capturing movement on film. Their use of camera and sometimes their subsequent editing of the footage indicate their fascination with sustained focus and also their willingness to create the ‘longer look’ rather than merely ‘point and shoot’. Many women, like Lucy Fairbanks, Beryl Armstrong, Kathleen Lockwood, Sheila Graber, Rosie Newman or Audrey Lewis, explored trick photography, early colour film stock, reversals, stop motion, animation and slow-motion techniques.

As with the gender politics that underpin much of women’s storytelling, other political concerns inform their narratives. Undoubtedly, for some filmmakers, a specific political moment or occasion was precisely the impetus to film, and their unique cinematic gaze as bystanders to the action are now particularly significant. No one featured in the book directly filmed activists’ placards, though perhaps Rosie Newman’s brief scene filmed at the Chawpatty beach in Bombay (Mumbai) in the early 1930s, or Wilma Gladstone’s films of Ghana’s independence celebrations in 1957 indicate more nuanced recordings of anti-imperial protests and emerging postcolonial national identities. However, it appears that women amateur filmmakers were often fully aware of wider issues and, depending on where they were – whether as the wife of a civil servant or missionary during a posting overseas – their amateur films of apparently mundane scenes of family life could also include rare historical, visual testimonies. This is demonstrated by one amateur filmmaker’s choice to film friends picnicking in the English countryside with Enoch Powell, one of the most controversial figures in Britain’s post-war race relations history. Status and ideology, therefore, subtly determined subjects and sequences shot by women wherever they were living in later imperial or newly independent countries, in England’s home counties, as Scottish aristocrats or as teachers in Northern Ireland during the 1970s and 1980s.

figure 1.2 mrs movie maker from biokam manual

Figure 2: Photograph from an early Biokam Manual ( c.1899). Reproduced from Amateur Movie Maker (1961) © Amateur Cine Enthusiast.

Our book presents and analyses amateur films made by over forty British women whose productions  span over eighty years, and acts as an initial survey of the films available and of their specific visual literacy. Their hobbyist practice, historically underexplored, has emerged in our study as highly-nuanced and multi-facetted.  These women filmmakers constructed a subtler range of cultural and oppositional identities; took the opportunity to migrate artistically from fixed and established social networks; to experience personal rites of passage and to build new, self-empowering roles as producers of global culture. Our analysis, therefore, goes beyond interrogating the visible in different parts of Britain, during international travel or in a postcolonial world order. Instead, these women amateurs’ films testify to their own creativity and agency, by what they valued in their surroundings and how they sought to share their beliefs with the world. We have begun to uncover their rich, unique legacy, both as social documentary and as part of a more inclusive cultural history of women’s filmmaking practice.

Notes to Figures:

1.  Figure 1: K. Agnes Thubron is one of the early filmmakers discussed in the book and the earliest woman amateur animator we have found during our research. EAFA stands for East Anglian Film Archive.

2.  The caption for Figure 2 reads: ‘Mrs Movie-Maker of 1989.  This illustration is reproduced from the instruction book of the Biokam which first appeared in that year and is believed to be the first amateur movie camera. Note the hand crank and the use of a tripod!’

Dr Annamaria Motrescu-Mayes is an Affiliated Lecturer in new and amateur media at the Department of Social Anthropology, an Affiliated Scholar at the Centre of South Asian Studies, a Member of the Cambridge Digital Humanities Network, and Fellow and Tutor at Clare Hall, University of Cambridge. Her work as a visual anthropologist relies primarily on imperial history and gender studies. 

Dr Heather Norris Nicholson holds honorary research positions at the University of Huddersfield and also at Manchester Metropolitan University. She has encouraged archival, scholarly and popular interest in amateur film and independent forms of non-fiction film-making for decades through writing, teaching and community outreach.

Conference Report: Women and New Hollywood, Maynooth University (May 2018)

Fjoralba Miraka shares some key insights into the debates during the Women and New Hollywood Conference at Maynooth University in May 2018. What questions do the current histories of New Hollywood raise for feminist scholars of this period of cinema history – and for feminist historians more generally?

These names are important to note, because each of these careers helped to create a path for future female filmmakers to follow. These women of the 1960s and 1970s knocked on that glass ceiling, and though it was tough to break through it, they ended up inspiring a whole new generation waiting in the wings, ready for their shot
(Alicia Malone, Backwards and in Heels, 2017, pp.124-5).

When Maynooth University announced its Call for Papers for the Women and New Hollywood conference to be held on 29-30 May 2018 I thought to myself this is fantastic news! With my own research focus on Women and the so-called ‘movie brats’ (Pye and Miles, 1984) in the age of Hollywood Renaissance, this was the place to be, not only because it was clearly close to my research interests but also because it was the first conference of its kind: exploring the roles of women film practitioners in an age that has invariable been considered as male-driven and male-dominated,. Interestingly, this conference came almost a year after one dedicated to The American New Wave, at Bangor University (July 2017), a conference in which, as I pointed out in my report on that event, overtly raised the issue of the lack of women actively involved in film during the Hollywood Renaissance era. These two conferences are divided by the rise of activism against abuses in the film industry, namely the #metoo and #timesup movements; they still share, from an academic perspective, an interest in revising the established historical narratives of the 1970s film culture.

2018 saw various events employing different perspectives on the past, such as A Different Picture: Women Filmmakers in the New Hollywood Era, 1967-1980, (May 2018) a BAMcinematiek series which established its aim to: ‘correct a historical wrong’ and to provide ‘a counternarrative to the traditional macho mythology of the New Hollywood era’; the 2018 Doing Women’s Film and Television History (DWFTH-IV) conference offered a well-informed, feminist account of women and film in national and international contexts; and Artists and Activists: Second Wave Feminist Filmmakers (June 2018) at the Barbican Centre, ‘a weekend of films from the American Women’s Movement of the 1970s’, curated by the Women’s Film Preservation Fund of New York Women in Film and Television. The significance of this ‘wave’ of historical revisionism is twofold: for historians, it demonstrates the wealth of a flourishing film culture since the late 1960s onwards which has been somehow omitted from the film canon or current film histories; and, for practitioners, it creates the necessary context for new generations of women practitioners to draw inspiration from a film tradition of their own.
Amidst such an atmosphere, ‘Women and New Hollywood’ drew attention to the unprecedented number of women in Hollywood production in the late 60s and 70so and sought to bring their stories out of the shadows of masculine auteurist film criticism that has arguably dominated film culture for decades. Panels on adaptation and stardom, historiography, New Hollywood’s end and legacy, as well as on individual women, such as Jay Presson Allen and Barbara Loden, made up the main corpus of the conference.

It started with a powerful message from the opening keynote speaker Amelie Hastie, which sought to offer the alternative story of women’s engagement with film culture to the mainstream story of masculine New Hollywood. Her presentation foreshadowed many of the following talks and discussions, challenging the understanding of the history of New Hollywood as the history of film directors; instead, Hastie’s presentation decentred authorship to relocate the creative genius in the figures of stars, screenwriters, producers, or the collaborations between directors/writers/actors, etc.

Decolonising film history from auteurist preoccupations, as well as opening up the meaning of the word auteur to incorporate the vast creative presence within the filmmaking, is a useful and effective methodological tool for revisiting and reshaping film historiography. In a her keynote presentation titled: ‘All the Wrong Lessons – New Hollywood and Contemporary Auteurism’, Julie Turnock emphasised that this is a decisive step towards learning the right lessons from the past and teaching the right lessons in the future.

The main lesson from this conference was the attention to the decades-long women’s invisibility in film culture as a symptom of a symptom of sexism in the industry. Working through the example of New Hollywood, the conference overall brought strong evidence that a continual devaluing the stories of and about women as well as their work, as opposed to men’s, has taken place. Susan Liddy made this the main point of her presentation on gender and the Irish film industry, pointing out the universal truth that women struggle to be visible and suggesting that the right questions need to be asked in order for the record to be corrected and the history books to be revised.

In my experience of inter-conference conversations this year regarding historical revisionism and methodology, the title of the conference itself demonstrates where we are in terms of feminist scholarship. At DWFTH-IV this year, Yvonne Tasker’s problematised ‘the currently inescapable logic of women and…’ as a paradigm to discuss film history. This resonated with the title of Maynooth’s conference: ‘Women and New Hollywood’, which suggests that we still find these kinds of discursive paradigms for women’s filmmaking necessary. This is because the record has not been set straight yet and the canon has not been ‘fixed’. However, having said that, our times – and these conferences – suggest that we are on the right path toward this end.

I wish to thank Maynooth University, the organisers Aaron Hunter and Martha Shearer, the keynote speakers Amelie Hastie and Julie Turnock as well as all the presenters and attendees for this great opportunity to revisit one of the most influential eras of American film history with a very fresh perspective.

Fjoralba Miraka is a research student at Roehampton University and teaching associate, with a research focus on Women and the Movie Brats in the era of Hollywood Renaissance. She holds an MA degree in American Literature and Culture and a BA degree in English Language and Philology, both from Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece. She has presented in national and international conferences, and received the Arthur Smith Memorial Scholarship, awarded by the Fran Trust, for her participation in the Women and New Hollywood conference, Maynooth University, Ireland. She occasionally contributes essays at the WFTHN blog and writes film reviews of Albanian films for the online magazine Sbunker

 

References:
Malone, A. (2017) Backwards and in Heels.The Past, Present And Future Of Women Working In Film. Coral Gables, FL, USA : Mango Publishing.
Pye, M. & Miles, L. (1979) The Movie Brats: How the Film Generation Took over Hollywood. (London: Faber and Faber).

The Twitterverse: #dwfth4 from a distance.

Dear @wfthn and @callingtheshots

What does #dwfth4 look like, viewed from a distance, via its tweets? Collated out of the Twitter feed from the inspirational conference at Southampton University, organized by the @callingtheshots team, here is the image – our #dwfth4 group photo/temporary planet (via wordcloud).

A little background about the process to create this picture:

  • all the tweets and e-mails were cut and pasted into a document;
  • all names of delegates were removed (with apologies for any editor error), to honour the general rule that we are not a star system but a collective;
  • a dispensation to ‘repealthe8th’ in tweets was given, to acknowledge the conference’s support of that important, contemporaneous event;
  • less willingly, all directors’ names, were removed, to allow the shared vocabulary to prevail. Some painful surgery was, therefore, necessary on Lotte (5) and Reiniger (4), as well as Craigie (4) and Winona (2);
  • that said, Weinstein stays in, since this writer trusts it will become a historical marker, as in pre- and post-;
  • ‘canapés’ was underused (1) but should be recognised as the official kitemark of a good conference.

Please feel free to print and pin for a happy reminder.  If you’ve no such time, let us point out  a few highlights and enjoyable associations:

  • ‘tomorrow’ is visible;
  • The words ‘working’ (LHS) and ‘looking’ (RHS) are prominent, and balanced;
  • ‘pretty ignored’ has formed itself into a useful phrase (towards the base);
  • ‘pioneering’ and ‘old’ are nestling together between the ‘e’ and ‘n’ of women.

Of course, you might see others – please feel free to share via a tweet or two @wfthn.  Overall, in amongst our discursive tentpoles: women, history, feminist, film, tv and research: we have an expanding collective vocabulary – virtually and in person –  to take us forward.

@wfthn looks forward to supporting #dwfth5 – coming soon…….

Feature: New Publication: ‘Women do Genre in Film and Television’

Katarzyna Paszkiewicz gives an exclusive insight into the evolution of her new publication, co-edited with Mary Harrod, which develops key theoretical questions in relation to women and genre.  Dealing with work across film and television, including new digital media forms, it asks what women can do with genre from a very contemporary perspective.  As we go forward to our next conference, Katarzyna’s is a stimulating and ideally-timed account, exploring the book’s roots in Doing Women’s Film and Television History II in 2014.

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women do genre

The collection Women Do Genre in Film and Television (2017), which I co-edited with Mary Harrod, bears the traces of many encounters. Perhaps the most significant was the opportunity to participate in a growing network of feminist film scholars and activists – Women’s Film and Television History Network–UK/Ireland and Women & Film History International – as well as the inspiring Doing Women’s Film and Television History conferences. These important initiatives have opened up space for fresh and challenging perspectives on the influential contributions of women filmmakers, whose labour and creative input have often been overlooked, discarded, or simply erased from empirical histories and critical perspectives.

The idea for this book arose directly from the DWFTH panel on authorship and genre, held at the University of East Anglia in April 2014, at which we, its editors, spoke alongside Deborah Jermyn. All of the three papers in the panel emphasized the ongoing erosion of women’s contributions from screen, and in particular, genre histories: Jermyn scrutinized the massive body of criticism against Nancy Meyers, acutely gendered in nature, pointing not only to the usual scorn for the ‘women’s genre’ of the romcom and for the female audiences that enjoy it, but also for Meyers as a woman director. My paper further complicated the figure of ‘the wrong kind of woman filmmaker’, as Jermyn astutely put it. Through references to a genre codified as male (a horror film), I focused on methodological problems that beset thinking about women filmmakers as ‘subverters’ of genre paradigms, while acknowledging the productive potential of repetition in women’s skilful interpretations of Hollywood’s genres. Mary Harrod then addressed a broader spectrum of women filmmakers working in genre. In particular, she focussed on their mobilization of pastiche and what she calls ‘heightened genericity’ – a tactical pairing of narratives designed to elicit affect with extreme referentiality, which she argued is particularly prevalent in female-authored films; this pairing further dislocates the assumptions about the male/female generic divisions.

Noting the tendency in Feminist Film Studies to privilege and/or recover only particular female directors, the methodological complexities of which we explore in the book, it was the ambition of our anthology to examine and to rethink women’s film practice as an encounter between different cultural and aesthetic practices. Building on the understanding of genre not as a limitation, but a condition of creative imagining and cultural engagement, the volume set out to address women’s significant contribution to popular cinema, from the romcom and horror cinema, to the Western, superhero film, comedy and the biopic. As we explained in the introduction, it was intended partly as a provocative act of recuperation, reinscribing women within genre histories from which they have been typically excluded, thus responding to Jane Gaines’ observation in Christine Gledhill’s seminal volume Gender Meets Genre in Postwar Cinemas on the historically revisionist value of championing women as generic innovators (2012: 17). We sought to encourage contributors to give genre priority and to depart from generic analyses that have typically privileged the paradigm of subversion as a way to valorise texts.

As we argued then and still believe now, the discussion of the intersection of gendered authorship and genre has become an increasingly pressing conversation in academia, not least because of the notorious obstacles that exist for women to accede to positions of power as creative artists in the commercial media-sphere. These obstacles are evidenced again by the recent scandal surrounding Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, an example of how power imbalances lead to abuse, generating vigorous opposition through campaigns such as ‘Time’s Up’, ‘Me Too’ or the recent Golden Globes protest. However, alongside these newsworthy events, women’s greater discursive visibility in audiovisual industries, specifically on mainstream turf traditionally seen as masculine, may be equally important in the long-term story of change. In the last decade we have witnessed an increasingly visible embrace by female practitioners of genre production in both film and television, as emblematised by Kathryn Bigelow’s Academy Award for The Hurt Locker in 2010 or Sofia Coppola’s more recent Best Director prize at the Cannes Film Festival for what she considers to be her first properly genre-based film, Southern Gothic thriller The Beguiled. Soon after work on this collection was completed, Wonder Woman (2017) – the first superhero DC Comic film directed by a woman, Patty Jenkins – has officially become the highest grossing live-action film directed by a female filmmaker and the second-highest grossing film of 2017 behind Beauty and the Beast (Bill Condon, 2017).

However, it is also important to point to the limits and challenges of such newly gained visibility. While The New York Times reports that Patty Jenkins ‘broke Hollywood’s superhero glass ceiling’ (Barnes 2017), the ceiling remains firmly in place for most female directors, as demonstrated by Martha Lauzen, who since 1998 has been tracking the number of women employed on top-grossing films annually. In 2017, in terms of American cinema,[i] women accounted for 11% of directors working on the top 250 films, up 4 percentage points from 7% in 2016 and even with the percentage achieved in 2000 (while the number of writers and editors have declined, and the percentage of women cinematographers has remained the same). Significantly, these low figures also translate into a lack of industrial recognition; to date, Bigelow remains the only woman to have been awarded an Oscar for directing. At the time of writing, screenwriter and director Greta Gerwig becomes only the fifth woman nominated for the best director in the Oscars’ 90-year history. The Academy’s exclusion of women from its most prestigious category continues to be overwhelming and attests, in a wider sense, to numerous difficulties that exist for women directors working within the mainstream realm notoriously dominated by men.

Thus, individual visibility seems slow to bring change. As Sophie Mayer aptly observed: ‘Authorship, like box-office success, is at once crucial to coverage and circulation for feminist cinema, and deeply problematic, invoking Default Man models of solitary genius’ (2016: 16). We recognised that it was equally urgent for our collection to reconfigure the equation of authorship away from the director towards acknowledging the myriad invisible roles involved in genre making: production, costume design, writing, performance and the role of audience and fan rewriting of shared generic materials. These practices are partly addressed in our collection, from women screenwriters’ and performers’ ‘hidden’ role in genres – screenwriters Wendy MacLeod and Tara Ison, among others, and Melissa McCarthy or Lena Dunham’s work as performers – to female-dominated forms of media fandom, such as fanfiction, including fan art and the practice of ‘vidding’: women ‘rewriting’ Hollywood genre stories with themes that are important to or enjoyed by them, such as the artist known as lim.

From ‘Marvel/MCU Dance Off’ by lim. © lim/published on youtube.com.

We are equally convinced that the study of women practitioners in a wide variety of contexts and across different media is vital for feminist film criticism. With this objective in mind, we have broadened our project to the use of genres in non-US contexts, in particular in France, Spain and India. Addressing the transmigration of genres between national cultures, and intersections between gender and other categories such as race, nationality and class both in and beyond dominant industries, can provide a means to denounce ‘the limitation of genre theory to Hollywood and of gender as a totalising identity’ (Gledhill 2012: 1). And our project has consolidated our conviction that refocusing critical attention on genre as a cross-media and cross-cultural phenomena has a key place in the scrutiny of women’s creative practice in screen media and can contribute to our collective work on a more complex understanding of the nature of women’s involvement across the spectrum of popular cultural production.

[i] For information on the current UK-based project, Calling the Shots: Women and Contemporary UK Film Culture, see here.

 

Katarzyna Paszkiewicz lectures in the Modern Languages and English Studies Department at the University of Barcelona. She is a member of the Research Centre ADHUC – Theory, Gender, Sexuality (UB) and her research focuses on film genres and women’s cinema in the USA and Spain. She has published book chapters and journal articles on Kathryn Bigelow, Sofia Coppola, Nancy Meyers, Kimberly Peirce, Icíar Bollaín and Isabel Coixet. She co-edited, with Mary Harrod, Women Do Genre in Film and Television (Routledge, 2017). Her monograph Genre, Authorship and Contemporary Women Filmmakers is to be published by Edinburgh University Press (2018).

 

 

 

 

[i] For information on the current UK-based project, Calling the Shots: Women and Contemporary UK Film Culture, see here.