Women in Cinema History

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Cinema History started to be written in 1829 when Joseph Antoine Ferdinand Plateau developed and marketed the device known as Phenakistoscope, a little and round toy which he created the optical illusion of motion. However, it was just until 2010, for instance, that a woman got the Award for Best Director at Oscar Awards, a ceremony that is taking place since 1929.

It is a reality that women are played a more discreet role than men, but all their contributions have been equally important. They have been even pioneers and set new milestones for this industry.

Here, we offer a journey through some key moments of Women in Cinema History:


A year after Lumiere Brothers showed their first movie in public, that December 28th with “Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory”, appeared the first movie by a woman; her name: Alice Guy-Blaché, who was also the first female producer and filmmaker of fiction or narrative films. This pioneer of Film Industry exhibited in this date “The Cabbage Fairy”, an adaptation of 56” of running time about a popular French children’s tale where a fairy godmother makes children in a field of cabbages.

Alice reached her owned independent film studio (something very hard to repeat), producing and directing more than 600 movies, even taking risks directing the first film where all the main characters are black. We talk about the silent movie “A Fool and His Money” (1912). Although, “A Trip to the Moon” by Georges Méliès has been considered the first film to include visual effects, this artist has already made her first steps in this field with “Magique” filmed in 1898. Alice Guy was so prolific that filmed two shorts per week. When she called the attention of Hollywood and engrossed for that industry, the filmmaker was completely forgotten and her projects were taken under the name of other artists, sadly. Even, it was hard for her to find her own works once she was retired.


This date Florence Lawrence started her career. She was considered the great female star worldwide. She went to make one film per year to 20, signing with different studios. While the rest of actors earned $3.000 per week, she earned $10.000. Florence Lawrence was the first actress became a star, which meant, a studio was put at service of an actor/actress in order to catapult the career and hence their productions. Before her, actors didn’t have credits in silent movies because studios had fear that artists charged more money or made many demands. At the end, studios lost the battle. “The Girl of a Thousand Faces”, as she was also known, was worked in more than 200 films until 1936.

Her life went to anonymity because a terrible accident she suffered in the filming of “Pawns of Destiny” by director, actor and screenwriter Harry Solter, her husband for that time. In a scene, flames were spreading and Florence had severe injuries that caused she was out of studios many months. After that, she had intermittent presence until 1936, when few audience remembered her. Finally, she was victim of rare condition and one day was found death after drinking insecticide for ants.


Florence Turner is the first actress who signed a contract for a studio, which change the contractual relationship with rest artists. The contract offered a stability for their careers because it determined a pay during a certain period of time and even to continue participating in upcoming productions. With Florence Turner was begun the concept of “Star System”, the system to catapult stars and gets with that a greater success in their films.


The career of screenwriter Anita Loos increased her notoriety when D.W. Griffith directed her story titled “The New York Hat”. Loos is remembered for “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”, work that has been adapted more than 80 times in cinema, theater and TV. Her great contribution was her intelligent sense of humour, full of satire and clever phrases. She was a modern, funny and daring woman.


In 1915, pioneer Julia Crawford Ivers became the first woman to be the general manager of Hollywood Studio (the company Hobart Bosworth Productions), founded in 1913. In the same year, Crawford released her debut film “The Majesty of the Law”. As a director or screenwriter her filmography includes 14 films like “The American Beauty” (1916) and “The White Flower” (1923). From Julia there aren’t neither photographic recording, nor interviews. Crawford was also linked to actor and director William Desmond Taylor who died in strange circumstances.

In 1915, appears another female figure to make a great contribution in edition field. Viola Lawrence is considered the first female editor in Seventh Art. Her first edition work was at the age of 18 in “O’Henry” film (1912). Viola Lawrence had a long career (more than 30 years) and got two nominations Oscar Awards for the musical “Pal Joey” and “Pepe”.

Finally, during this year it was recruited the female director best highest-paid during silent era. She was Lois Weber, who was hired for Universal and earned  $5.000 per week. Weber is considered the most important woman in American Cinema History. She was the first female filmmaker to direct a feature film, “The Merchant of Venice” (1914), adapted several times. Universal had a contract without limitation what let her to talk about polemic stories that even were censored for media. Lois talked about abortion, female discrimination, drugs and alcohol. She also was an actress (at first steps of her career), producer and wrote almost 100 screenplays. During 20s, her career stopped when audience begun to feel interested in joyful stories, musicals and romantic movies.


Started her career as director, editor and screenwriter Dorothy Arzner, who was considered the most prolific female director linked to a studio (Paramount), with credits in 25 productions. But before arriving Paramount, she had already added more than 50 projects. Under her responsibility was to direct the first talking film “Manhattan Cocktail” (1928). Openly lesbian, Arzner gained the respect of entire industry because of her talent and critical view for the role of female stereotypes.

For that reason, she changed the figure of woman, making her more independent and able to live without men. Other titles in her filmography are: Nana, Working Girls, Craig’s Wife, The Bride Wore Red and The Ten Modern Commandments.


1926 was the year when “The Adventures of Prince Achmed” was premiered, the oldest animated film preserved, the first in Europe made by German pioneer of animation Lotte Reiniger who made great contributions to this fantastic genre by working with silhouettes. This is an essential work in Cinema History because its tremendous technical and artistic sensitivity.


When Frances Marion won the Oscar Award for Best Original Screenplay for The Big House, she has moved to be an actress to screenwriter best-paid in 20s. She was the first woman in won an award given for The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Under her pen are classics like “The Champ”, “The Poor Little Rich Girl”, “The Wind” and “Dinner at Eight”.


Edith Head, one of the Hollywood icons, became in the head of wardrobe department in a big studio where she worked for 27 years. She won eight Oscar Awards and was nominated 35 times during her career for films like “The Heiress”, “A Place in the Sun”, “Samson and Delilah”, “To Catch a Thief”, “Notorious”, “All About Eve”, “The Man Who Knew To Much”, “Sullivan’s Travels”, “Sunset Bulevard” or “Vertigo”. Her name appears in more than 450 movies. Head made a great friendship with Alfred Hitchcock. Edith Head is the designer most award-winning in history. A woman who confessed her admiration for Grace Kelly. One of the key of her success was that she designed the dresses together to actresses. Her black glasses and fringe made her famous. In fact, her glasses included a bluish filter who let her to see how would be a dress in black and white.


Mother of experimental cinema, Maya Deren, premiered her first short-film, “Meshes of the Afternoon”. Deren kept a career out of Hollywood and always criticized it as the main obstacle for aesthetic and artistic projects. Maya Deren was always linked to surrealist cinema.


French Jacqueline Audry released her debut film “Les Malheurs de Sophie”, a censored movie. In fact, other of her projects received the same status for showing extra marital sex. She was very feminist but at the same time very conservative. Besides, she is a pioneer of lesbian films when premiered “Olivia” (1951). Audry was the most successful female director during post-guerra era and commercial cinema in France.


This date is premiered the most important documentary of Latin America: Chircales by Colombian director Marta Rodríguez and her husband Jorge Silva. It was a deep investigation to a pottery family in Bogotá. From French Jean Rouch School, Marta Rodriguez is one of the most important anthropological documentary filmmakers worldwide. Indeed, she is a pioneer in this field. She has inspired other directors to make highly human movies by showing vulnerable situations and marginalisation.


“Yentl” is a classic musical that made Barbra Streisand entered to history because she had different roles in this movie: Streisand was the director, co-producer, co-writer and the main character. She won the Golden Globe Award for Best Director becoming the first female director in getting the prize. Streisand also received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay.


Halle Barry became the first black actress to win an Oscar Award for her role in Monster’s Ball, a historic milestone in Cinema because it is known the racial tradition not only of this Academy but also the entire industry. Barry received this award 46 years after the another black actress, Dorothy Dandrige, got a nomination for her role in the musical “Carmen Jones”.


Finally, Kathryn Bigelow won the top award for Best Director at Oscar Award for her great work in “The Hurt Lucker”, a feature film settled in US military foray to Iran. James Cameron ex-couple got another five awards for this movie: Best film, screenplay, edition and cinematography.

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