I've thought a lot about the role of women in Hollywood. I have worked as a reader, as an executive, as a screenwriter, and even as a set caterer. I've worked for some terrific women--Lauren Shuler Donner, Kathryn Bigelow, Nina Jacobson--and I've seen how male Hollywood is consistently surprised when "women's movies" actually make money. As if, somehow, those execs didn't realize that women went to movies too. I decided to look around and see if there were any books on the topic. Here's a short list.
1. A Woman's View: How Hollywood Spoke to Women 1930-1960 by Jeanine Basinger.
Now, Voyager, Stella Dallas, Leaver Her to Heaven, Imitation of Life, Mildred Pierce, Gilda…these are only a few of the hundreds of “women’s films” that poured out of Hollywood during the thirties, forties, and fifties. The films were widely disparate in subject, sentiment, and technique, they nonetheless shared one dual purpose: to provide the audience (of women, primarily) with temporary liberation into a screen dream—of romance, sexuality, luxury, suffering, or even wickedness—and then send it home reminded of, reassured by, and resigned to the fact that no matter what else she might do, a woman’s most important job was…to be a woman. Now, with boundless knowledge and infectious enthusiasm, Jeanine Basinger illuminates the various surprising and subversive ways in which women’s films delivered their message.
2. In the Company of Women by Grace Bonney
Over 100 exceptional and influential women describe how they embraced their creative spirit, overcame adversity, and sparked a global movement of entrepreneurship. Media titans and ceramicists, hoteliers and tattoo artists, comedians and architects—taken together, these profiles paint a beautiful picture of what happens when we pursue our passions and dreams.
3. Unruly Girls, Unrepentant Mothers: Redefining Feminism on Screen by Kathleen Rowe Karlyn.
This is a scholarly book from the University of Texas, and the continued examination of ideas first articulated in Karlyn's book Unruly Women. I haven't read this book and would love to, but it's hideously expensive--the Kindle version is $30, which is kind of beside the point of making books available in digital editions.
4. Go West Young Women! The Rise of Early Hollywood by Mary A. Hallett.
In the early part of the twentieth century, migrants made their way from rural homes to cities in record numbers and many traveled west. Los Angeles became a destination. Women flocked to the growing town to join the film industry as workers and spectators, creating a "New Woman." Their efforts transformed filmmaking from a marginal business to a cosmopolitan, glamorous, and bohemian one. By 1920, Los Angeles had become the only western city where women outnumbered men. In Go West, Young Women, Hilary A. Hallett explores these relatively unknown new western women and their role in the development of Los Angeles and the nascent film industry.