Women Behind the Camera: Women as Directors
Prior to the 1930s, Hollywood provided many opportunities for women to work on films behind-the-scenes. Many studios had prominent female directors, and female screenwriters created some of the most popular movies of the period, while female film editors exercised creative control over the visual appearance of film. A few women even headed their own studios. Though these women earned their jobs through their creative talents and shrewd business sense, their presence behind-the-scenes helped legitimize film as an art form and as morally acceptable for audiences.

Alice Guy Blache
Alice Guy Blache directing her cast in 1915.
Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-02978.
Like men, most female directors started their careers in other areas of the film industry before making their directorial debut. Alice Guy Blaché, for example, began as a secretary and rose to studio head. She is credited as being the first female film director, and also was known for experimenting with film technique and narrative form. She began her career in France at Gaumont Film Company, owned by Léon Gaumont, and directed her first film in 1896, where she directed all the films made by the studio until 1905.

She continued to work for Gaumont until 1907, when she married Herbet Blaché. After following him to the United States in 1910, she founded the Solax Company. As its president, she both directed and supervised production of the company’s films. In 1913 the company closed down, but Blaché continued to direct for her husband until 1922, when she returned to France with her children after her marriage failed. Though her career as a director faded, she is still remembered not only for being a pioneering woman in film, but for helping to shape the early film industry.7

Alice Guy Blaché also mentored Lois Weber, one of the most famous female American directors. Weber got her start under Blaché at Gaumont in 1908. Although Blaché initially hired her as an actress, Weber’s talent allowed her to develop a career behind the screen, as well as in front of the camera. Along with acting, she “wrote scenarios and subtitles, acted, directed, designed sets and costumes, edited, and even developed negatives for her films.”8 Along with her husband, Weber was also one of the first directors to experiment with sound. Weber is also remembered for her skillful use of film to convey social messages. Weber’s 1914 Hypocrites, for example, used a nude statue to represent “the naked truth”—and she accepted the criticism she knew she would face because of this nudity. Much more daringly, Weber made a film about birth control, The Hand that Rocks the Cradle, in 1917, the same year that birth control advocate Margaret Sanger faced criminal charges.