Professor Melanie Bell's Inaugural Lecture – Labours of Love: the Feminist Work of Doing Women’s Film History

This talk argues that doing women’s film history transforms understanding of film culture whilst being a feminist film historian shapes the wellbeing of the discipline and wider academic community.

Doing women’s film history demands persistence, hard work and a certain amount of bloody-mindedness.

Established explanatory frameworks are difficult to shift, evidencing women’s film labour is hard-won, and feminism falls in and out of favour with students, funders and institutions.

Notwithstanding these challenges, I argue that doing women’s film history is a necessary, political act that can radically transform our understanding of film cultures.

In this talk, I will do three things.

First, I will summarise some of my contributions to the field of film history, most notably centring labour history in the British film industry by reconceptualising work.

Then, I will situate my research in the much bigger picture of women-led feminist film scholarship, acknowledging the people, places and concepts which have nurtured me intellectually. I do this to bring a diverse and divergent range of voices to the fore.

Finally, I will talk about the affective dimensions of my research and scholarship – the ‘why I do what I do’ bit – and how temerity has enabled me to do not only women’s film history but also much-needed citizenship work in the academy.

Ultimately, I argue for an understanding of women’s film history as both a feminist methodology and a way of being in the world, one that is essential to the well-being of the discipline and the academy.

About the speaker

Melanie Bell is a Professor of Film History at the School of Media and Communication in the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures at the University of Leeds.

Her research is on production histories, gender and aspects of women’s work in the film and media industries.

She uses oral histories, labour records, photographs and ephemera in her research, and is especially interested in life narratives and women’s occupational identities.

She is the author of three monographs: ‘Movie Workers: The Women Who Made British Cinema’ (Illinois, 2021); ‘Julie Christie’ (BFI, 2016); and ‘Femininity in the Frame: Women and 1950s British Popular Cinema’ (I B Tauris, 2010). She has written numerous journal articles on aspects of women’s film including costume designers, documentary directors and foley artists.

‘Movie Workers’ won the “Best Monograph” prize, awarded by the British Association of Film, Television and Screen Studies (2022) and the “Richard Wall Memorial Award Special Jury Prize 2021”, awarded by the American Theatre Library Association in 2022.

Professor Bell is currently the primary investigator on the Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded project “Film Costumes in Action: Design, Production and Performance Cultures in British Film, 1965-2015.”

This brings together her passion for film history, costume and women’s labour in the performance industries.