From the plucky heroines of silent film, to the dangerous dames of Pre-Code and Noir, to the liberated women of the New Hollywood of the 1960s and ’70s, classic film has no shortage of powerful female icons. But the same can’t be said for the decision-makers behind the scenes. Or can it?
Turner Classic Movies today announced a multi-year partnership with Women in Film Los Angeles designed to shine a spotlight on the “historical contributions of women working behind the camera” and empower a new generation of female filmmakers. The initiative will launch in October with a month-long programming series that’s expected to be an annual event for the next three years.
“The issue of gender inequality in the film industry is both timely and immensely important,” TCM general manager Jennifer Dorian said in a statement. “We’re thrilled to partner with such a well-respected organization as Women in Film in order to address and promote the empowerment of women in our industry.”
The numbers speak for themselves, and what they say isn’t good. Of the 1,300 highest grossing films released since 2002, male directors outnumbered female by a margin of 23-1. But this sort of institutional sexism wasn’t always the case in Hollywood.
“In the early days of film, women were frequently in positions of authority,” Christel Schmidt, author of Mary Pickford: Queen of the Movies, told me via email. “Mary Pickford was one of the true moguls of that period, as both an independent producer and the co-founder of United Artists. I think it’s great that TCM will remind viewers of the early trailblazers and inspire the current generation.”
While the films in the series have not yet been announced, TCM promises an “extensive” on-air programming commitment as well as “research and resources” designed to assist contemporary female filmmakers. There’s no word yet on the shape the off-channel component may take, but TCM has achieved great success recently with Into Darkness: Investigating Film Noir, a free, online course in film noir offered in conjunction with Ball State University. That class, part of TCM’s Summer of Darkness series, has attracted more than 15,000 participants worldwide.
“For years, I have dreamed of having a network reach out to our organization with a true interest in our advocacy and the ability to collaborate on programming that will reach audiences everywhere,” Women in Film president Cathy Schulman said. “Now, thanks to TCM, that dream is real.”
For more information on Women in Film, visit their website. To listen to a podcast discussion of TCM’s film noir course w/ professor Richard L. Edwards, Ph.D., TCM staffer Shannon Clute, Miguel Rodriguez and me, click here.