Mary Pickford and Frances Marion
Mary Pickford and Frances Marion.
By the early 1930s, American culture and the film industry were inextricably linked. While most industries struggled during the Great Depression, Hollywood continued to boom as Americans turned to movies to escape from the hardships of their lives into the imaginary worlds of beautiful people, slapstick comedy, and happy endings. Women would continue to be at the center of this story; new stars, like Katharine Hepburn, would emerge to once again change the feminine ideal, and women of color would continue to overcome racial stereotypes and the limited roles available to them.  Just like today, the film industry during the first part of the 20th century was responsible for reinforcing patriarchal norms; with men occupying most of the positions as directors and producers, female actresses were often cast in roles and publicized in ways that led them to become the objects of the male gaze.

And yet, women were very much at the center of the evolution of the industry. The growing independence of white middle class women and their increasing power as American consumers, for example, profoundly influenced the direction of the film industry. The celebrity achieved by many of the leading ladies opened up a new opportunity for women to be front-and-center and acknowledged not only for their looks but also for their work as actors. Furthermore, women like Lois Weber and Anita Loos found ways to rise to the top of this male-dominated world and led in ways that had previously been virtually impossible for women. Progress is gradual, and while Hollywood still faces many injustices—leading men are still paid more than leading women, actresses continue to be judged and revered on the basis of their looks, and there are still more men than women behind the camera—women have been and continue to be involved in all aspects of the American film industry.