Womens cinema is the genre and branch of film that involves films made by women and about women. While womens cinema is often thought of only as films of women directors, it is a branch of film theory that deals with feminism, women’s issues, relationship issues, and social criticisms by and about women. At university, womens cinema is a series of courses in both the Women’s Studies department and the Film Department as it covers issues vital to both arenas of thought.
While it is more common to notice the female actress rather than those behind the scenes there are plenty of them. Women populate the film industry not only as actresses but directors, editors, cinematographers, assistant directors, production designers, art directors, script supervisors, wardrobe, make-up, and just about every other aspect of filmmaking. Basically since filmmaking has emerged with the Lumiere brothers’ first films in the late 1890s women have been involved in the filmmaking process.
One of the first true Hollywood female directors was Dorothy Arzner who began her filmmaking career as a scriptwriter for Paramount Studios in 1922 and quickly moved up to direct the studio’s very first talkie in 1929, “The Wild Party”. Arzner is credited with launching the careers of many actresses including Rosalind Russell and Katherine Hepburn. Because Arzner was so truly talented, driven, and innovative, she also paved the way for many women filmmakers for years to come.
Hollywood has always been a hard town for women, especially female directors and cinematographers. The film industry as a whole has been more accepting of the woman as an actress rather than an active filmmaker. In fact, since the inception of the Academy Awards in 1929 only three women have been nominated for the Best Director Oscar and none of them have won the prestigious award. Lina Wertmuller was the first woman ever to be nominated for the Best Director Oscar in 1976 for “Seven Beauties”. Jane Campion and Sofia Coppola followed in 1994 and 2004 with “The Piano” and “Lost in Translation”, respectively.
Because of the growing number of female filmmakers throughout history, womens cinema is not going anywhere. Women including Amy Heckerling, Betty Thomas, Penny Marshall, Nora Ephron, Doris Wishman, Allison Anders, and Catherine Hardwicke have made some of the most popular movies. Many of these female directors have started off as actresses in popular television shows and movies. While women have a very long way to go (in 2005 only about 7% of the top 200 films were directed by women), they have certainly come a very long way.