The Fully Fifty-fifty Project is dedicated to uncovering and celebrating Hollywood’s forgotten female pioneers.
Over the past year or so, the dire situation for women in Hollywood has been a hot topic of conversation, with the #metoo revelations and protests over lack of women represented both on screen and behind the camera.
But in all this discussion, one very important point has been missed.
There’s a pervasive idea around that filmmaking is somehow a dude’s game and it always was – which is simply not true.
Within five years the feminine influence will be fully fifty-fifty in Studio Land.
–Ladies Home Journal, 1920
For the first decade or two of the film industry, women were a dominant force both in front of and behind the camera.
Female stars could expect top billing, had control over who directed and wrote for them, and were paid as much — and often more — than their male counterparts. The first star to sign a million dollar contract was a woman. The first studio head was a woman. The highest paid screenwriter between 1915 and 1935 was a woman, and in the teens Universal was famous for its army of female directors.
The fair sex is represented [in Hollywood] as in no other calling to which women have harkened in the early years of the twentieth century.
– Motion Picture Classic in 1915.
In 2015, 11% of Hollywood movies were written by women, and 7% directed by them. But up until 1925, a full 50% of films were written by women – and for many of those years, women were directing around half too. For the first two decades of the movie industry – from the turn of the 20th century until the early twenties or so – women were writing, directing, producing and editing films in numbers we can only dream of today.
And the tragedy is that no one knows!
This is due in part to the fact that so few films of the era survive – the teens in particular are sort of Hollywood’s Dark Ages or prehistory. But I can’t help but wonder whether it really is a coincidence that most even casual movie fans could name DW Griffith – but not Lois Weber; or that Chaplin is a household name while Mabel Normand – who mentored him – is not. What is beyond doubt, is that before the Hollywood boys’ club, there was a girls’ club – and it is time the were celebrated.