Professor Melanie Bell

Professor Melanie Bell

Profile

I completed my PhD at the University of Hull's Department of Gender Studies in 2004 and then took up a post as a Lecturer in Film Studies at the University of Newcastle. During my ten years at Newcastle I convened the MA Film Studies programme and served as Acting Director of the Research Centre for Film and Digital Media (RCFDM). In 2014 I won a major AHRC award to research the history of women in the British Film and Television Industries. This project combined statistical analysis with oral history interviewing to examine women's economic and creative contribution to cultural production in British film and television. I joined the University of Leeds School of Media and Communication in 2016 as an Associate Professor in Film and Media.

My latest publication is titled Movie Workers: The Women Who Made British Cinema (University of Illinois Press, 2021). Discount Code: Use ‘S21UIP’ to get 30% off all formats.

Movie Workers is the first historical 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 for the first time 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. 

Responsibilities

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

Research interests

I am a prize-winning film scholar recognised as an authority in the fields of British Film Studies and Women’s Film History, with specialisms in digital archives, oral history and the construction of screen femininities. My research analyses the economic and creative work of women in film production, through the lens of agency, authorship and ‘value’, develops new methodologies which amplify marginal voices in film histories, and examines the legacies of past experiences of work for the challenges facing today’s media workers.

My first monograph Femininity in the Frame: Women in 1950s British Popular Cinema (2010), explored how British cinema produced ambiguous messages about feminine identities and the role of women at a time of considerable social change. In 2013, I co-produced a special edition for the Journal of British Cinema and Television on 'Working Women, Women’s Work: Production, History, Gender' which brought together cutting-edge research on questions of gender, labour and cultural production. I extended this work in 2016 with my second monograph, a study of the star and feminist icon Julie Christie. This innovative project combined detailed archival research, interview material and textual analysis, and was situated at the interface between star studies, production studies and feminist film historiography. Conceptualising Christie as a social subject, performing a job within a labour system, it asked how that process was informed by the actor’s feminism, and addressed wider questions about the relationship between women, cultural production and the political economy of film. 

My third monograph Movie Workers: The Women Who Made British Cinema was published in 2021. This pioneering work is the first historical study of the thousands of women who worked in the British film industry from the 1930s to the 1980s. The research for this study emerged from my AHRC-funded project ‘A History of Women in the British Film and Television Industries, 1933–89’ which was a collaboration between the Universities of Leeds (Dr Melanie Bell, Principal Investigator), De Montfort (Dr Vicky Ball, Co-Investigator) and BECTU, the film and television union for the UK. In addition to scholarly outputs, the project also produced a major digital resource featuring statistical information (gleaned from 67,000 film & TV trade union membership application forms), oral history interviews, profiles of individual women and case studies of production roles including costume design, make-up, editing, producing and script-writing.

The unique digital resource was designed in collaboration with the British Universities Film and Video Council (now Learning on Screen). Although historical in focus the project, through its partnership with the union and other industry bodies, connected the past with the present and provided evidence and knowledge which supported campaigns for change in the present-day media landscape.

I have also published numerous articles in prestigious journals in my field including ‘Film Criticism as ‘Women’s Work’: the Gendered Economy of Film Criticism in Britain, 1945–65’, (Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television), which won the David H. Culbert Prize for Best Article by an Established Scholar (awarded by the International Association for Media and History in 2012), and ‘Learning to Listen: Histories of Women’s Soundwork in the British Film Industry’, (Screen), which was awarded the major essay prize by the British Association of Film, Television and Screen Studies (2017).

I am currently working on a study of Gordon Conway, a leading costume designer in Britain’s film studios in the 1930s, and her working relationship with leading star Jessie Matthews, and a second study of work, emotion and memory through oral history testimony. 

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

Qualifications

  • 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.

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="https://phd.leeds.ac.uk">research opportunities</a> allow you to search for projects and scholarships.</p>