Directed by Women: A Brief History

    – posted by Ellen

In the early years of motion pictures – from the 1890s to the 1930s – women were major players behind the scenes on movie sets in Hollywood and around the world. Here are a few who made their mark back in the day.

Visionary French director Alice Guy-Blaché is credited as the first woman director with her 1896 film La Fée aux Choux, the story of a woman who cannot have children so she creates some in a cabbage patch. More than 700 films made in France and the U.S. followed, from melodramas to gangster films, horror films to fairy tales. See a collection of her films on the dvd Gaumont Treasures

In 1908, Lois Weber became one of the first female directors in the U.S. Throughout her career Weber made over 100 films, many of which were essentially morality tales. Her 1917 film The Hand that Rocks the Cradle about birth control was considered quite daring.

Ida Lupino was the first actress to write, produce and direct her own movies. In 1949 she formed a film company called Emerald Productions and made films with controversial social themes such as bigamy, rape, and the plight of the unwed mother. In addition to playing a femme fatale in many film noirs, she also directed the unforgettable noir classic from 1953, The Hitchhiker.

For the last few decades, women have been directing in genres ranging from comedy (Nora Ephron’s Sleepless in Seattle) and horror (Mary Lambert’s Pet Sematary) to animation (Vicky Jenson’s Shrek) and sports (Gurinder Chadha’s Bend It Like Beckham). But the percentage of women in film today is still meager. Only 17 percent of directors, producers, writers, cinematographers and editors working on major feature films are women, reports San Diego State University. In Academy Award history, only four female filmmakers have been nominated for best director (Lina Wertmuller for Seven Beauties in 1977, Jane Campion for The Piano in 1994, and Sofia Coppola for Lost in Translation in 2004, Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker in 2010). Only Kathryn has won.

We have four more movies left to go in the Library’s Directed by Women film series this month; come join us!

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