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.

.

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.

Advertisements

Doing Women’s Film and Television History IV: Calling the Shots – Then, Now and Next

Please find below information relating to this year’s conference DWFTH-IV: 23rd to 25th May 2018.

The latest programme is available to download here: FINAL SCHEDULE for DWFTH4.

In addition, REGISTRATION is now open. Click here for a direct link to the University of Southampton online store. The options are in a list form, so here is some clarification:

1. Full standard registration (all 3 days, including buffet dinner on the 23rd): £165

2. Full unwaged registration (all 3 days, including buffet dinner on the 23rd): £85
*please note the unwaged rate is for those who are unemployed, on part-time hourly paid contracts, and students

3-5. Day rates: £85 (for those who have obligations that keep them from attending the full 3 days – please choose the day you will be attending)

6. 2 Day registration: £160 (for those who have obligations that keep them from attending the full 3 days but will be there for 2 days)

Any queries may be addressed to: dwfth4@gmail.com

Dr Shelley Cobb, Dr Linda Ruth Williams, Dr Natalie Wreyford

Conference Report: ‘Love Across the Atlantic’

Love Across the Atlantic: An Interdisciplinary Conference on US-UK Romance
University of Roehampton, June 16 2017. In conjunction with New College, University of Alabama

Continuing our conference theme, we are delighted to feature two responses from June’s Love Across the Atlantic, an interdisciplinary intervention exploring cultural and political resonances of the ‘special relationship’ across literature, film and television. The event was supported by Women’s Film and Television History Network.

With Karen Randell, in a fascinating keynote, Professor Alexis Weedon explored novelist and screenwriter Elinor Glyn’s relationship to America. Below, she gives us a flavour of its intriguing complexities alongside some other highlights regarding film, television and literature from the conference.

And Fjoralba Miraka reflects on the timely nature of the papers, whether focussed on contemporary or historical subject matter.

 

roehamt-alabam conf 2

Love Across the Atlantic: June 2017 © Roehampton University

Alexis Weedon writes:
Creating a keynote between us for a conference linking institutions as far away from each other as Roehampton and Alabama brings into focus the benefits and pleasures of cross-disciplinary conferences.

Deborah Jermyn, author of a recently published book Nancy Meyers, was the convener in the UK and her colleagues Catherine Roach, Ted Trost and Barbara Brickman from USA provided a forum for studying transatlantic romance through the frame of the political, economic and military undertones of such a special relationship.

She kindly invited Karen Randell and myself to present a keynote on Elinor Glyn, an author, filmmaker, business woman and glamour icon of the 1920s who crossed the Atlantic many times in her life. Glyn’s love affair with America was publicised in the magazines, in the cinema and on radio. As the novelist Arnold Bennett wryly observed in Books and Persons  it was a historical watershed, referring to ‘the distant past … before America and Elinor Glyn had discovered each other’ (1917, p.289). She was not alone in this affair, traveling in 1908 on Mauritania after the success of her romantic novel Three Weeks, she was one of millions crossing the Atlantic recreating themselves in the New World. We used the link between Glyn’s book and popular silent film Six Days (1923) and Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic (1997) to demonstrate the differences in wealth and fortune of those who travelled as well as the likelihood of realizing their dreams. In Hollywood Glyn made personal and romantic friendships, and became deeply invested in the movie adaptations of her books offering her own insights to the stars and directors on what constituted the accurate psychological portrayal of love on screen.

Glyn, I soon found, was not the only novelist featured in the conference who had a transatlantic passion.  A session on literary authorship across the ocean featured novelists as diverse as P.G Wodehouse, Lisa Kleypas, Maya Rodale.  Presenters Finn Pollard, Immaculada Pérez-Casel and Veera Mäkelä made the point that in their fictions America is only defined in contrast to England and therefore the countries’ identities are interdependent. Pérez-Casal saw in Kleypas’s romance a nostalgia for a mythical Englishness. The lure of this was so strong it alone could unite American couples. While in Wodehouse, argued Pollard, both nations have to be involved before a romance can be fulfilled.

Alice Guilluy’s study of the British reception of Sweet Home Alabama also revealed national differences in audience’s readings of film. William Brown’s amusingly entitled: ‘Bridget’s Jones’s Special Relationship: No Filth, Please, We’re Brexiteers’ looked at Bridget Jones’ Baby. He critiqued the marketing of love through the tongue-in-cheek portrayal of the fictional ‘Quantum Leap’ dating site Jones uses.

As Deborah Jermyn said in her round up, there were also many absences, and in each lacunae lies a story of underprivilege. For academics interdisciplinary work requires a breadth of ambition. Like the creators of the films, TV shows and novels, as academics we must journey beyond the shores of our comfortable home disciplines and transition.

Fjoralba Miraka writes:
In view of the turmoil created after two of the most significant political events in recent years – Brexit and the Trump Election – the conference came as a breath of fresh air, attracting interested scholars from both sides of the Atlantic, who wished to reflect on the much-discussed and multifarious special relationship between the US and the UK.

The range of themes presented and discussed was wide, covering disciplines as broad as literature, film, and politics, among other. Similarly, the idea of transatlantic love was examined by Manuela Ruiz, who argued that film representations of love across the Atlantic can be best examined and understood under the prism of cosmopolitanism, whereas Jay Bamber’s presentation focused on the Working Title comedies – closely related to the Heritage Film genre – and explored how the genre’s space is a setting in which Americanness and Englishness can become contested identities. In the same vein, Anna Martonfi utilised The Ghost Goes West (1935), starring Robert Donat and Jean Parker, to interrogate how this transatlantic romance designated Americanness as a kind of ‘Ignorant Other’, reflecting the social and political context and Anglo-American relations of the time.

In a panel to explore very contemporary political concerns, Shelley Cobb took a historical perspective to explore political special relationships between Thatcher and Reagan and proposed these two be seen as a powerful ‘celebrity political couple’, cementing a pattern for the two countries’ future relations. Hannah Hamad explored representations of Tony Blair and George W. Bush as a now infamous political ‘bromance’, resonating with this popular film genre and its representation of male intimacy. Neil Ewen focused on the current putative bromance between Trump and Nigel Farage, and highlighted its place within the general context of a populist turn on both sides of the Atlantic as well as the role of the media in elaborating this special relationship.

The final session included discussion of the cultural nuances and sensitivities revealed through forms of transatlantic adaptation and the functioning of time in narrative media. Overall, the thematic of love generated a breadth of historical and cultural material which led to illuminating exchanges on very contemporary theoretical concerns.

Alexis Weedon is Research Professor of Publishing at the University of Bedfordshire and co-author with Vincent L Barnett of Glyn as Novelist, Moviemaker, Glamour Icon and Businesswoman (Ashgate 2014). With Karen Randell, she co-authored ‘Reconfiguring Elinor Glyn: Ageing female experience and the origins of the ‘It Girl’ in Deborah Jermyn and Su Holmes (eds) Women, Celebrity and Cultures and Aging: Freeze Frame (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015).

Fjoralba Miraka is a Ph.D student at Roehampton University and teaching associate, with a research focus on the postclassical melodramatic imagination in the Hollywood Renaissance period. She is currently working on a chapter for publication on male melodrama and Scorsese’s early films. She is also writing an entry on the history of Feminist Film Theory for the first Encyclopaedia of Gender, Media and Communication, scheduled for publication in 2019, as part of the ICA series of the Sub-disciplinary Encyclopaedias of Communication.

Linkedin.com/fjoralbamiraka

Programme Announced for WFTHN Conference 2014

‘DOING WOMEN'S FILM AND TELEVISION HISTORY' 2014
The Second International Conference 
of the
Women's Film and Television History Network – UK/Ireland
Thursday 10 - Saturday 12 April 2014
  University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK
  • Keynote speakers: Jane Gaines, Christine Gledhill, Jackie Stacey, Sue Thornham, Helen Wheatley
  • Film and television director Beeban Kidron in conversation
  • Screening of the documentary Golden Gate Girls and Q&A with writer/director Louisa Wei

Building on the success of the firstDoing Women’s Film History’ conference held in 2011, this three-day international conference will bring together academics, archivists, curators and creative practitioners to explore and celebrate women’s significant contribution to film and television, providing a forum for the latest research in the field.

Topics covered by panels include: women’s filmmaking co-operatives; Nordic women in film; women’s documentary; Hollywood genre and female authorship; global film pioneers; women working in British film and television; female screenwriters; reflections on teaching women’s film and television history; fans/audiences; female performers and stars; and many, many more…

For a full provisional programme of the conference and a downloadable registration form, please visit the conference website.

Conference email: doingwomensfilmandtvhistory@uea.ac.uk

De Montfort University University of East Anglia Women's Film and Television History Network