She wore the pants in Hollywood
By Christina Schultz
It might sound like the stuff of fiction, but it’s all true. How, you might ask?
All these factors seemed to have been a formula for her success in Hollywood, as well as with the gay and lesbian community. Her strong, independent personality arguably makes her a good fit as a feminist icon as well. We can only recommend you watch some of her films and see what you think.
We also highly suggest you read “Today in Gay History: The Inimitable Barbara Stanwyck” by Andrew Belonsky for Out magazine for more information about the late, great Barbara Stanwyck, one of Hollywood's greatest stars and suspected lesbian.
Selected filmography (click titles for selected clips or trailers):
Stella Dallas (King Vidor, 1937)
Ball of Fire (Howard Hawks, 1941)
Double Indemnity (Billy Wilder, 1944)
Sorry, Wrong Number (Anatole Litvak, 1948)
Walk on the Wild Side (Edward Dmytryk, 1962; a film with heavy lesbian undertones)
Roustabout (John Rich, 1964; with Elvis Presley!)
Special thanks to Felicia Carparelli for providing me with information for this piece and to filmmaker Emma Seligman who reminded me that Barbara Stanwyck was (most likely) a closeted lesbian. My interview with Emma will be published this Friday, July 20! Come back to read what Emma has to say about sex, the Jewish culture, her work as a filmmaker and, of course, Barbara Stanwyck 😊
 For those unfamiliar with the term, a “lavender marriage” refers to a “male-female marriage,” also known as a “mixed-orientation marriage,” a type of marriage of convenience, “in which one or both of the partners is homosexual, pansexual or bisexual.” The main reason several Hollywood celebrities in the golden era of Hollywood entered into lavender marriages was to hide their homosexuality because it was not accepted. One of the earliest uses of the phrase appeared in the British press in 1895, at a time when lavender was associated with homosexuality.
By Christina Schultz
“Margarethe von Trotta is two things: the most important woman director to emerge from the New German Cinema, and narrative cinema’s foremost feminist filmmaker. Bold claims indeed – but irrefutable ones in my opinion, for there is no other director, male or female, who has matched von Trotta’s single-minded determination to show cinema audiences real female characters.” - Ben Andac, Senses of Cinema
When you think of German Cinema, I bet the names of many male directors come to your mind: Fritz Lang (Metropolis 1927, M 1930), Volker Schlöndorff (Young Törless 1966, The Tin Drum 1979), Rainer Werner Fassbinder (Ali: Fear Eats the Soul 1974, The Marriage of Maria Braun 1979), Werner Herzog (Fitzcarraldo 1982, Grizzly Man 2005) and Wim Wenders (Paris, Texas 1984, Wings of Desire 1987).
Perhaps you know other male directors to add to the list but can you name any female directors from Germany (besides Leni Riefenstahl)?
To get you started, here’s one I would like to introduce you: my personal favorite female filmmaker from Deutschland, Margarethe von Trotta (1942-).
Associated with the “New German Cinema” from the 1960s to the early 1980s and aforementioned directors Fassbinder, Herzog, Schlöndorff, Wenders and others, Margarethe von Trotta is one of the few female counterparts to the heavily male dominated auteur cinema (Autorenkino) at that time. Her films tell stories of women and therefore her work has often been labelled as part of the Frauenfilm (Women’s Film) movement, which includes other female directors such as Helke Sander and Helma Sanders-Brahms. Margarethe von Trotta’s films, like those of her female filmmaker contemporaries in Germany, portray strong, emancipated women, usually sisters or close friends, and can certainly be considered feminist, which is why I recommend that you, the Femfilmfam, familiarize yourself with her works.
Below is a very small overview of some of her key films. There are, however, many more you could watch and all would be relevant if you are interested in films made by women about women.
For example, her film Heller Wahn/Sheer Madness (1983) stars the venerable Hanna Schygulla as Olga and Angela Winkler as Ruth. The two women form a bond closer than the ones they have to the men, or any other people in their lives. Olga helps Ruth free herself from the constraints and limitations placed upon her by her husband and Ruth’s subsequent transformation shows how powerful a friendship between two women can be. Another film with a similarly powerful message of female liberation and emancipation is Die bleierne Zeit/Marianne and Juliane (1981), starring Barbara Sukowa (with whom von Trotta has often worked) and Jutta Lampe. The characters, Marianne and Juliane, are loosely based on Red Army Faction member Gudrun Ensslin and her sister Christiane respectively. Marianne leaves her husband and young child to “join a terrorist group, while Juliane is active in the women’s movement and works for a feminist magazine”. Definitely not your ordinary sisters. Both of them fight for what I would consider ultimately boils down to similar causes, i.e. more control and liberation from the man and the system, but in opposite ways. A more recent film is the biopic Hannah Arendt (2012) chronicling the fascinating and somewhat controversial life of the German-Jewish philosopher and writer Hannah Arendt (1906-1975), played by none other than Barbara Sukowa. Arendt was an intellectual through-and-through and wrote important works about the Nazis, totalitarianism, the crimes against humanity and the “banality of evil” (also the title of one of her most famous works).
As you can see, Margarethe von Trotta’s film subjects, whether real or fictional, do not fully partake in the patriarchal society, even though it still exists. The women in her films, much like the women who play the characters and the woman who directed and wrote the films, choose to see the world differently and act according to their own desires. The liberation of the characters in her films has a liberating effect on us the viewers, but not just the female audience members, I would argue. Margarethe von Trotta’s films, then and now, challenge all of us to think about what life might be like were we to change the way women were treated and the way they interacted with the world around them. If you consciously choose not to follow the “rules,” if you remove the concept of woman as object, which I argue her films do by and large, we see something revolutionary: unobjectified women represented as worthy beings with their own stories, independent of men. That is why von Trotta’s films inspire, empower, challenge women to stand up, take action and play with the boys by not playing with them.
Please feel free to leave your comments or to ask me for further feminist film recommendations!
And don’t forget to follow us on Facebook and on Instagram (@femfilmfans).
 Andac, Ben. "Margarethe von Trotta." Senses of Cinema, Issue 23, December 2002, http://sensesofcinema.com/2002/great-directors/von_trotta/.
 Knight, Julia. New German Cinema: Images of a Generation. London: Wallflower, 2004.
The entire film Heller Wahn/Sheer Madness, as well as Die bleierne Zeit/Marianne and Juliane, are available to watch on YouTube! Happy viewing :-)
The Many Talents of Danai Gurira (1978-)
By Christina Schultz
Most of you might recognize the self-proclaimed “Zimerican” actor as Michonne from AMC’s hit show The Walking Dead (2010-), currently in its eighth season, or from Marvel’s wildly successful film Black Panther and the brand new Marvel film Avengers: Infinity War (U.S. release April 27, 2018) in her role as Okoye.
But have you heard of the film Mother of George? Nigerian director Andrew Dosunmu’s film co-stars Danai Gurira in a role more modest and subdued than the ones for which she has become famous. Danai’s performance in the film earned her a Black Reel Award for Outstanding Actress in 2014 and the film itself received critical praise. Such work reveals Danai’s versatility as an actor and I highly recommend the film to those who haven’t seen it. She is definitely capable of more than slashing down zombies with her prized katana or kicking ass with the other members of the Dora Milaje. But don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoy and quite honestly relish her in these badass roles. I have had a longtime crush on (Danai’s portrayal of) Michonne, and am now in love with her sassy portrayal of Okoye.
Crushes aside, did you know that Danai is an accomplished playwright? Her first play Eclipsed, which debuted in 2009 and went to Broadway in 2016, was nominated for several Tony Awards and won for Best Costume Design. It was, more importantly, the first Broadway play in history to star an all-black, all-female cast and to have a female writer (Danai) and director (Liesl Tommy). The story is about a group of women being held captive in Liberia who describe the horrors of rape and violence. Distressing but incredibly important issues. She also won critical acclaim off-Broadway with the more comedic play Familiar (see trailer below), the story of a Zimbabwean family preparing for their first-generation American daughter’s wedding.
I believe her African upbringing, which clearly influences her works, was part of the reason she started the Love Our Girls site. Ever heard of that? If you haven’t, you should. Love Our Girls is Danai’s incredibly inspirational site, which I also think is the perfect word to describe Danai herself: inspirational. Here is an excerpt from the site’s story of “genesis” that highlights this and reveals so much about Danai personally...
“I was born on February 14th, 1978. My father named me Danai, in commemoration of my birth on the day of love and romance; Danai, in my parent’s native tongue, Shona, means to be in love or to love one another. I always embraced this day of teddy bears and excessive red roses as my day. But I have finally figured out a more purposeful meaning of Valentine’s day. This year, and every year to come, I am seeking to reclaim Valentine’s Day, to make it about loving our girls.”
She continues her story:
“I want to reclaim Valentine’s Day as a day when we seek to validate our girls and women globally and lessen the gender gap inch by inch. It has to start with love – love being a verb, not a noun. Join me in making women and girls your Valentine, in making the world a better place for just one woman or girl on the globe. Every month, on the 14th, pledge with me to bring awareness to your network of the struggles, experiences or challenges of a girl or woman across the world.
Let’s do this. Let’s love our girls.”
Real talk: I have goosebumps right now. Not only is Danai Gurira a talented and successful actor and playwright, she is an advocate for real, positive change. I cannot even express how much I admire this woman - but I’m trying my best here. Love Our Girls raises awareness for so many issues women all over the world are facing, of which we are often unaware or simply forget about in developed countries because we have it so good. Issues like lack of proper nutrition and healthcare, no access to education, being forced into arranged marriages or being sold as sex slaves subject to rape and abuse. The Love Our Girls pledge helps us keep these injustices fresh in our minds while reminding us to love our girls. The world has enough hate, so let’s love instead. Sounds like a plan to me.
It goes without saying that we at Femfilmfans have taken the pledge. If you feel as strongly about these issues as Danai does, and as we do, take the pledge too.
 Lee Miller, Victoria. "'The Walking Dead': 5 things you didn't know about Danai Gurira." Yahoo Entertainment, August 17, 2017.
I’m No Angel - Meet Mae West (1893-1980), American actor, writer, singer, comedian
By Guest Contributor Felicia Carparelli
Felicia Carparelli is a retired teacher/librarian and avid film fan, particularly of Hollywood's Golden Era, from Chicago. She is also a published author of The Murder in the Library, young adult novels and Jane Austen-inspired stories.
“Come up and see me sometime.” Iconic words from a past master.
Mae West, do you know her? Born in 1893, in the Bowery in New York, Mae was a precocious child and debuted as a singing Baby Mae. The story goes she stamped her little foot and demanded a spotlight one evening at a talent show. Mae won.
She moved on to being a shake and shimmy dancer in less than glamorous theaters. Her five foot tall figure, endowed with a rather large bust and ample hips was a hit in turn of the century Gilded Age America. More was more and Mae had it.
She was an actress and a writer long before her film career began. In 1926 she wrote a play called Sex, about a prostitute which was banned and put her in jail for eight days. The judge overturned the closing and the play went on to great ticket sales if not critical success. Mae usually laughed all the way to the bank. Another play, Drag, was also a success with theater goers not used to such vivid, racy material.
Her film career began in 1931 when she took the Super Chief, “train of the stars,” from New York to Los Angeles. Her first movie role was a small part in Night After Night (Archie Mayo, 1932), a film starring George Raft. “Mae stole everything but the cameras,” the critics said. For Mae, in her satin gown, dripping with jewels, had the best line of the movie:
“Goodness, what diamonds!” The hatcheck girl says to Mae.
“Goodness had nothing to do with it, dearie,” says Mae and she slowly walks up the circular staircase to fame and movie stardom.
In 1933 she shot her best known film, She Done Him Wrong (Lowell Sherman), a period piece set in 1890s Bowery New York, which co-starred a very young and gorgeous Cary Grant. Her role in the film was inspired by her “Diamond Lil” character whom she played for years on the New York stage. This signature role, also written and created by Mae, was a great hit with the public. This one movie alone saved Paramount Pictures from bankruptcy. Audiences in the sticks, the small town folk, were both shocked and titillated by her saucy ways and amazing figure and wardrobe.
“Come up and see me sometime,” she croons to Cary Grant. “Come up and I’ll tell your fortune. Ah, you can be had.” Heady stuff for depression era audiences who also relished her singing of “A Guy What Takes his Time” and “Frankie and Johnny.”
Another film with Cary Grant followed that same year. I’m No Angel (Wesley Ruggles; Mae co-wrote the script) is a romp with Mae as a carnival dancer turned lion tamer. I know, boggles the mind, but Mae pulled it off with panache. Watch it just to see her scintillate in a black and silver spider web gown as she makes wild eyes at a blueblood Cary Grant, who falls madly in love with her despite their opposite backgrounds. Her trio of maids, also a reflection on the times, sing to her while she gets dolled up for a night out.
A personal favorite of this writer is Goin’ to Town (Alexander Hall; Mae was the sole screenwriter) from 1935. Mae is a dance hall girl in the wild west who is left a small fortune from a cattle rustling beau who gets shot. She falls for a very proper Englishman and follows him all the way to “Bonus Aries” (as she said it) to race a horse named Cactus. You must watch her dress up and sing the role of “Delilah” in Saint-Saën’s “Samson and Delilah,” as she tries to impress the swank ladies and gents of the Hamptons in New York. Mae gets the last word and the guy - who happens to be the Earl of Carrington.
After her last hilarious picture with W.C. Fields, My Little Chickadee (Edward F. Cline, 1940), she embarked on a musical career, hitting the stages of major cities, including Las Vegas, singing and surrounded by muscle men to entice and amaze. This lasted for decades, as well as radio and TV appearances.
Mae West never hid her fondness for men and made a career of overt sexuality. Now she might appear a bit dated but at her peak she was dynamite. She was also fun. Her numerous comments about love and life are as pithy and memorable as any of Shakespeare’s. Check out one of her films today - you won’t be disappointed. You will laugh - a lot - in a good way and will want to rush out and buy a satin dress just to feel fabulous.
As Mae said, “When I’m good, I’m good, but when I’m bad I’m better.” Words to live by. Enjoy.
Bibliography and Recommended Reading
Tuska, John. The Complete Film of Mae West. Revised edition. Citadel Press, 1992.
West, Mae. Goodness had nothing to do with it. 1959. Belvedere Publishers, 1989.
Back to Life - Rediscovering Alice Guy Blaché (1873-1968)
By Marina Brafa
Have you ever heard of Alice Guy Blaché? Guy Blaché was one of the first female directors ever, starting her work as early as 1896. By 1914 - just 18 years later - she had either directed, overseen or produced roughly 1000 films of various length and genre, which makes her not only one of the few women in the early film business (besides actresses) but also a very productive one indeed.
Just two years before kicking off her film career in 1894, the twenty-year-old Mademoiselle Alice Guy had to earn a living for herself and her mother. She started as Léon Gaumont’s secretary at Le Comptoir general de photographie, the famous French camera manufacturer (Gaumont later became head of the company). Ambitious and willing to invest in her work and future, Guy learnt not only to be an efficient secretary but observed her environment and noticed how business in the male-dominated world of the late 19th century worked. She was there on 22 March 1895 when the Lumière brothers projected their famous film of workers leaving a factory (see Lumière brothers: "Workers leaving the factory" on Youtube). But Guy was not satisfied. She thought she could do better than this and tell a real story through images and asked her boss Gaumont for permission to shoot a film. He agreed and, at the age of only 23, Guy made her first film: La Fée aux choux (The Cabbage Fairy).  How did such a young, inexperienced woman get, seemingly, the chance of a lifetime? The most probable answer seems paradoxical: Because film had not yet been viewed as a serious means of storytelling or money-making, and (financial) stakes were low, Gaumont saw no threat in having his secretary trying it out – as long as it would not interfere with her secretarial duties. We do not know whether Guy had envisioned the future development of filmmaking into a serious art form, but she used moving pictures not to advertise products or showcase scientific observations but as an aesthetic object in themselves.
In 1907, Alice Guy married Gaumont employee Herbert Blaché. Taking on his last name signaled a turning point in her life and career. After having worked mainly as a director in France, Blaché and her husband moved to the U.S. where they would establish their own production studio, Solax, in 1910. By then, Madame Blaché was a technically and artistically acclaimed director, owner of a production company and a mother (the couple had a daughter). Four years later, however, her career in the film business would end as abruptly as her marriage. Initially, Herbert Blaché had taken care of sales decisions at Gaumont and continued to do so at Solax. But he also learnt how to make films with the help of his wife (who was nine years his senior). Although the couple tried to maintain a private and work life based on equality and collaboration it became more and more difficult for Alice Blaché to ignore her husband’s escapades. His poor business decisions as well as his amorous relationships with American actresses cooled down her love and finally led her to divorce Herbert.
Once again her last name would signal the new turn her life was about to take. In 1922, freshly divorced Mmd Blaché re-adopted her maiden name and becomes Alice Guy Blaché. This is the name that she kept for the rest of her life. She returned to France and tried to restart her abandoned film career. An endeavor that failed: “As Mr B. [Blaché] himself said, I am old, and people don’t care to take white haired woman when there are so many young people unemployed. Besides, after 16 years in America, I am absolutely forgotten, an unknown in France.” In the end, this exceptional woman’s cosmopolitanism turned out to be a pitfall.
Guy Blaché continued to work as an author of articles and her memoirs until her death in 1968 (at the age of 95!). From early on, her films mirrored the times in which she lived and depicted the challenges women encountered back then. Not all her movies contained (obvious) critical content but she always had an eye and a heart for the stories of ordinary people. It is perhaps more than ironic that Guy Blaché’s own life lends itself to a biopic that could finally bring her back into the minds of today’s audiences and to the most important place of her life: the silver screen. Any takers?
So there already were some takers! Since the launch of their Kickstarter campaign in 2013, Pamela Green and Jarik van Sluijs have been working on a documentary about the female filmmaker called Be Natural - The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché. According to the project's website the film will be released soon.
 Cf. McMahan, Alison: “Alice Guy Blaché.” In: Jane Gaines, Radha Vatsal, and Monica Dall’Asta, eds. Women Film Pioneers Project. Center for Digital Research and Scholarship. New York, NY: Columbia university Libraries, 2013.
 Simon, Joan: The Great Adventure, in: Simon, Joan (ed.): Alice Guy Blaché. Cinema Pioneer. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009. S.4f
 Musser, Charles: “The Wages of Feminism: Alice Guy Blaché and Her Last Feature Films,” in: Simon, Joan (ed.): Alice Guy Blaché. Cinema Pioneer. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009. S. 84.
 Simon, Joan: The Great Adventure, in: Simon, Joan (ed.): Alice Guy Blaché. Cinema Pioneer. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009. S. 21.
 Cit. after: ebd. S.19.
Bibliography and Recommended Reading