In 1914, Lois Weber became one of the first female directors of feature films.
She was one of the first women to own her own studio.
She made films that directly engaged with social issues like abortion, capital punishment, birth control, and power imbalances between men and women – all at a time before women could vote.
In the 1910s and 1920s, she was one of Hollywood’s most powerful figures, but by the time of her death in 1939 she was almost completely forgotten and bankrupt.
How did we forget one of the great pioneering voices in early filmmaking?
Weber’s story reveals the radical independent nature of Hollywood in the pre-studio era.
For a brief time, women were free to compete with men as producers, directors, entrepreneurs, and writers. Ambition, profitable work, and innovative ideas outweighed prejudices and social norms; allowing women to carve an impressive place for themselves in the origin of early Hollywood.
This was a time in Hollywood’s history when 40% of scripts were written by women. June Mathis was the highest paid executive of a major studio. The majority of post-production and editing was handled almost exclusively by women.
Lois Weber used that freedom to tell stories to a global audience that were socially relevant, groundbreaking, and are now completely forgotten.
The erasure of the influence of women in early Hollywood reads more like a conspiracy than an accident.
The discovery of the broad role of women in the origin of our industry forces you to re-examine the contemporary exclusion of women from the cinema.
It isn’t simply the case that women are working to create a new place for themselves amongst the ranks of male directors, producers, writers, and studio heads.
They are working to re-claim a place that was theirs from the beginning.
There were a ton of great research references that I found that I would highly recommend you check out for more information on Weber and other women of early Hollywood.
Check them out:
Lois Weber in Early Hollywood by Shelley Stamp
Lois Weber Interviews edited by Martin F. Norden
Silent Women: Pioneers of Cinema by Melody Bridges, Cheryl Robson
Go West, Young Women! The Rise of Early Hollywood by Hilary Hallett
Women Film Pioneers Project: https://wfpp.columbia.edu/
Visual References: Dawson City: Frozen in Time, What Do Men Want, The Blot, Where Are My Children?, Sunshine Molly, Idle Wives, Hypocrites, Suspense, The Girl in the Armchair, From Death to Life, Too Many Wives, The Great Train Robbery, The Rosary, Eleanor’s Catch, Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers