Alice Guy-Blaché, the First Woman Filmmaker

In a series for the first day of each month, Hyperallergic is exploring some firsts in art, from the earliest known depictions of things to pioneers in the visual fields.

“There is no doubt in my mind that a woman’s success in many lines of endeavor is still made very difficult by a strong prejudice against one of her sex doing work that has been done only by men for hundreds of years,” filmmaker Alice Guy-Blaché wrote in a 1914 article for Moving Picture World. She adds there “is nothing connected with the staging of a motion picture that a woman cannot do as easily as a man, and there is no reason why she cannot completely master every technicality of the art.”

Over a century later, there is still a major lack of support for women in the directing, writing, and producing of cinema. Guy-Blaché is recognizedas the first woman filmmaker, having made around 1,000 films. Just over 100 survive, and even before her death in 1968, she could sense her legacy fading. Unable to find her filmsat the Library of Congress, or to get work after her divorce from Herbert Blaché (to whom some of her films were erroneously credited), her career effectively ended in the late 1920s. Even receiving France’s Légion d’Honneur award in 1953 did not revive her reputation.

But her name should be heralded alongside early filmmakers like Georges Méliès and Auguste and Louis Lumière. She was one of the first filmmakers — some argue the first — to work with fictional narratives, beginning with her 1896 La Fée aux Choux in which babies are born from cabbages with the help of a fairy. It’s not even a minute long, but as Open Culture points out, it came out only a year after the first film screening by the Lumière Brothers, who were still focused on “actualités” that were more documentary than fiction.

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Chris Alexakiswomen, art