Women’s contributions to filmmaking celebrated by Faculty professor in new national records

Women’s contributions to filmmaking celebrated by Faculty professor in new national records

A Professor from the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures has worked with the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography to produce 16 new entries which record and celebrate the landmark contributions of women to filmmaking in the 20th century.  

The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford DNB) is the national record of men and women who have shaped British history and culture, worldwide, from the Romans to the 21st century. The Dictionary offers concise, up-to-date biographies written by named, specialist authors. It is overseen by academic editors at Oxford University and published by Oxford University Press

Melanie Bell, Professor of Film History at the University of Leeds’ School of Media & Communication, brought together 16 contributors to write ‘legacy’ entries for women who died some time ago but until now have not had entries as their contributions to film were not considered sufficiently noteworthy. Melanie has also written an introductory essay which contextualises their achievements. 

The subjects include documentary directors, screenwriters, costume designers, foley sound artists, composers, and animators. They are:

Whilst the achievements of women in filmmaking are numerous, the challenges of recovering their careers are considerable due to the social and cultural practices of the times. For instance, where married couples worked together, it was common practice not to credit women’s production work. Screenwriting often went uncredited or credit was shared in a way that minimised women’s involvement. Women’s achievements were systematically downplayed whilst those who tried to breach male domains such as film music faced overt discrimination.

These entries show the many and diverse ways in which women engaged with the sphere of filmmaking. Whether as foley artists, screenwriters, documentary directors, animators, or designers, women’s creative labour contributed significantly to the skilled work cultures of twentieth-century filmmaking. Their representation in the Oxford DNB marks a significant step in securing their place in the history of Britain’s screen heritage.

Professor Melanie Bell

Melanie Bell is Professor of Film History at the University of Leeds. She is the author of Movie Workers, the Women Who Made British Cinema (University of Illinois Press, 2021) and is currently leading an AHRC-funded project titled Film Costumes in Action.

The Oxford DNB is updated regularly throughout the year, providing access to the most up-to-date and accurate information available. Nearly all public libraries in England, Scotland, and Wales—and all in Northern Ireland—subscribe to the Oxford DNB. This means people can access tens of thousands of biographies, free, via local libraries—anywhere, anytime. Full access to all biographies is also available by individual subscription.