Female editors in studio-era Hollywood

Rethinking feminist “frontiers” and the constraints of the archives

Authored by: J. E. Smyth

The Routledge Companion to Cinema and Gender

Print publication date:  November  2016
Online publication date:  November  2016

Print ISBN: 9781138924956
eBook ISBN: 9781315684062
Adobe ISBN: 9781317408055


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Film historians are gradually coming to terms with the substantial number of women involved in the Hollywood film industry during the twentieth century, yet recent research has largely focused on “pioneers” of the silent era, such as director Lois Weber, star and United Artists’ co-founder Mary Pickford, serial star Pearl White, and screenwriter Frances Marion (Beauchamp 1998; Whitfield 2007; Gaines et al. 2013; Dahlquist 2013; Hallett 2013). Karen Ward Mahar (2008) and Mark Garrett Cooper (2010) have argued persuasively that masculine managerial business practices all but closed the directing profession to women by the mid-1920s, and this has led many to assume that women lost professional prominence in the industry. The scholarly consensus holds that by the end of the 1920s, the limitless frontiers of early Hollywood had closed, and many high-profile female filmmakers vanished from the industry. It certainly is tempting to use these mythical western metaphors to characterize the narrative of women’s presence in Hollywood during the first few decades of the twentieth century—reading these women as female pioneers in a wide-open cinematic frontier town—but this discourse, as well as the assumption that women were utterly disempowered and lost creative control during the 1930s and throughout the studio era, is problematic.

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