A new study from AFI shows that women during Hollywood’s silent era represented a higher percentage of writers, directors and producers.
The study comes at a time when recent data shows Hollywood has fewer female filmmakers and directors behind some of its biggest titles.
The AFI study, titled “Women They Talk About,” documents the unrecorded contributions of female filmmakers in the silent film era and uncovers the true story of women as pioneers in American cinema.
“The AFI Catalog — used all over the world by academics and film fans alike as the document of record for American film history — directly informs the way the story of film history is being told and spotlights the women who played foundational roles in the art form,” said Susan Ruskin, Dean of the AFI Conservatory and EVP of the American Film Institute. “We hope these new discoveries through the Women They Talk About project will provide inspiration to the next generation of filmmakers who can continue their pioneering work in film.”
The study features a newly launched microsite on AFI.com that includes curricular resources for grades 9-12, accessible to all, and a comprehensive index of over 800 women film pioneers, and it combines the work of Columbia University’s Women Film Pioneers Project and AFI’s research.
Over the course of three years, over 6,000 feature films were released in the silent era — many of which were written, directed and produced by women — that previously had little or no record in any book or online database. AFI captured information about hundreds of women who had yet to be included in the historical canon and added their credits to the AFI Catalog, ensuring they will be part of film history.
AFI then discovered that women represented a higher percentage of writers, directors and producers in the silent era than at any other time in the first century of American filmmaking. The study reports that from 1910-1930, 10.9% of feature film credits were attributed to women writers, directors and producers. During that same period, over 27.5% of women were credited as writers or co-writers; 19.6% of feature films were based on source material written by women; and films directed by women during this time period were 31% more likely to have female writers.
“The AFI Catalog’s uniquely comprehensive and scholarly data on American film history provides an unprecedented opportunity to illuminate women’s contributions to the creation of cinema and to make fresh discoveries, providing the groundwork for researchers and educators to tell an authentic story of women’s inclusion,” said Sarah Blankfort Clothier, Manager, AFI Catalog.
AFI’s next study will be “Behind the Veil,” named after a short film by pioneer filmmaker Lois Weber. The initiative, supported by a National Endowment for the Humanities grant, will document 6,000 short films from the silent and early sound eras to uncover the innovative contributions of female and BIPOC storytellers.