Many people don’t know this, but the movie industry did not always treat women as badly as it does now. In fact, back in the early days of the nickelodeons, women often owned and managed these establishments. According to Karen Ward Maher in her book Women Filmmakers in Early Hollywood, “Evidence suggests that 10 to 25 percent of all women in preindustrial America were ‘engaged in entrepreneurship’ and that half the urban retailers in seventeenth-century America were women.”
The days of the nickelodeon gave way to those of short movies, then longer feature films. Longer films developed based on better film technology, as well as an increased demand for narrative stories in moving pictures. Thus, the need for “scenarios” or screenplays, as we call them now.
The book goes on to say that screenwriting in the early 1910s engendered “a particularly ‘modern’ heterosocial work culture in which male and female writers, like actors and actresses, were roughly equal, having a hand in all phases of production.”
These were the days before the big studios and the hierarchical producer-controlled studio system. Movies were mostly collaborations among actors (usually female, because they had the most star power), screenwriters, and director-producers. The lines between these roles could be blurred.
The first woman director and feature film writer was Alice Guy-Blaché. Here’s a short film, in which Guy-Blaché played around with gender roles years before Some Like it Hot! 🙂 I’ve done a bit of musical remixing to avoid any copyright problems.
The film was produced by the Solax Company, which Guy-Blaché owned in partnership with her husband. However, it was Guy-Blaché who actually made the movies.
What’s more women were featured in action films. The actresses often did their own stunts in movies such as The Perils of Pauline. Contrary to popular belief, the heroine in this film series isn’t so much a damsel in distress as she is a resourceful woman caught in dire circumstances.
Stay tuned for more! 🙂
Let me know what you think. Do you enjoy silent film?