Professor Melanie Bell

Professor Melanie Bell


I am a prize-winning scholar of British Film Studies and Feminist Film History, with specialisms in digital archives, oral history, and screen femininities. My research analyses the economic and creative contribution of women to film production through a feminist lens, opening up questions of collaboration, authorship and value. My work has developed new methodologies to amplify marginal voices in film histories, and examines the legacies of past experiences of work for the challenges facing today’s media workers.

My latest publication Movie Workers: The Women Who Made British Cinema (University of Illinois Press, 2021) is the first, systematic study of the thousands of women who worked in the British film industry from the 1930s to the 1980s. Drawing on extensive archival research this revelatory study reveals the full extent of women’s contribution to British film production. With case studies of wardrobe assistants, paint and trace ‘girls’, production secretaries, editors, and matte artists amongst many other roles, this book brings their ‘hidden histories’ into view for the first time in a scholarly and engaging way. 

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

The research for this project was generously supported by an award from the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

In addition to scholarly outputs, the project also produced a major digital resource featuring film & TV trade union membership application forms, oral history interviews, profiles of individual women and case studies of production roles. The unique digital resource is available via Learning on Screen.

In September 2023 I will start a major project on Costume and British Film. Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, this project works in partnership with the British Film Institute. My Co-Investigators are Professor Sarah Street (Bristol) and Dr Claire Smith (BFI).  Entitled ‘Film Costumes in Action: Design, Production and Performance Cultures in British Film, 1965-2015’ the project runs for 3 years and will culminate in a major film season at the BFI showcasing costume for film.

I am also working on a study of Gordon Conway, a leading costume designer in Britain’s film studios in the 1930s, and the networks and making cultures of costume for British films at this time. This will shortly be published in the film journal Screen (M. Bell, ‘Feminist Histories of Costuming Film: Gordon Conway, 1930s British Cinema and the collaborative world of Mayfair sewing’, Screen, vol 64, issue 2, pp. 1-29).


  • Deputy Director, Leeds Arts and Humanities Institute (LAHRI)

Research interests

Gender and Film;

Women's Film Culture;

Archiving Women's Film Culture;

Feminist Methods;

Media Histories, British Cinema History;

Oral History; Life-Story Interviews;

<h4>Research projects</h4> <p>Any research projects I'm currently working on will be listed below. Our list of all <a href="">research projects</a> allows you to view and search the full list of projects in the faculty.</p>


  • PhD; MA; BA

Professional memberships

  • British Association of Film, Television and Screen Studies
  • International Association for Media and History
  • Women's Film and Television History Network

Student education

I contribute to the school's teaching in feminist media studies and film and cinema histories.

Research groups and institutes

  • Leeds Arts and Humanities Research Institute

Current postgraduate researchers

<h4>Postgraduate research opportunities</h4> <p>We welcome enquiries from motivated and qualified applicants from all around the world who are interested in PhD study. Our <a href="">research opportunities</a> allow you to search for projects and scholarships.</p>