By Margaret Talbot
28 October 2019
ne of the stranger things about the history of moviemaking is that women have been there all along, periodically exercising real power behind the camera, yet their names and contributions keep disappearing, as though security had been called, again and again, to escort them from the set. In the early years of the twentieth century, women worked in virtually every aspect of silent-film-making, as directors, writers, producers, editors, and even camera operators. The industry—new, ad hoc, making up its own rules as it went along—had not yet locked in a strict division of labor by gender. Women came to Los Angeles from all over the country, impelled not so much by dreams of stardom as by the prospect of interesting work in a freewheeling enterprise that valued them. “Of all the different industries that have offered opportunities to women,” the screenwriter Clara Beranger told an interviewer in 1919, “none have given them the chance that motion pictures have.”
Some scholars estimate that half of all film scenarios in the silent era were written by women, and contemporaries made the case, sometimes with old stereotypes, sometimes with fresh and canny arguments, that women were especially suited to motion-picture storytelling. In a 1925 essay, a screenwriter named Marion Fairfax argued that since women predominated in movie audiences—one reason that domestic melodramas, adventure serials featuring acts of female derring-do, and sexy sheikh movies all did well—female screenwriters enjoyed an advantage over their male counterparts. They were more imaginatively attuned to the vagaries of romantic and family life, yet they could write for and about men, too.
Read the full article in The New Yorker.