film, feminist


film, feminist
   Feminist film is situated in ideological opposition to the patriarchal codes and conventions of dominant (or mainstream) cinema. It engages with issues of female identity, subjectivity, desire, sexuality, history and spectatorship, challenging the negative representations of women in film and their marginalization within the film industry itself. Emerging concurrently with an ascendant women’s movement during the early 1970s, the initial symbiosis between feminist film theory and film-making began to rupture by the late 1980s. While some feminist film-makers expressed continued support for a separatist deconstructive or countercinema, others advocated working simultaneously within and against mainstream conventions. They criticized the theoretical density, didacticism and white middle-class composition of feminist film that foreclosed its accessibility among socially, ethnically diverse and more mainstream audiences.
   As a countercinema, feminist film has assimilated influences from socialist documentary and avantgarde film. A cinema vérité style allowed women to convey ‘authentic’ selves and experiences, rendering the personal as political in consciousness-raising films. ‘Women-talking’ documentaries include Women of the Rhondda (London Women’s Film Group, 1972) and Nightcleaners (Berwick Street Collective, 1975), which preceded the Sheffield Film Co-op’s more agitational socialist documentaries A Woman Like You (1976), That’s No Lady (1977) and Jobs For the Girls (1979).
   An avant-gardist experimentalism and aesthetic vigour infused films like Riddles of the Sphinx (Laura Mulvey and Peter Wollen, 1978), Light Reading (Lis Rhodes, 1978), The Song of the Shirt (Clayton and Curling, 1979) and Thriller (Sally Potter, 1979). Their work (that of cine-theorist Mulvey in particular) exemplifies an interrelated feminist theory and practice, notably through the attempt to articulate a new ‘feminine’ cinematic syntax which disrupts conventional narrative, image and sound.
   As transitional works, Lezli-Ann Barrett’s An Epic Poem (1982) and Potter’s The Gold Diggers (1983) were followed by Business As Usual (1987) and Orlando (1993) respectively, to demonstrate the viability of feminist concerns within a mainstream context. While 1990s feminist film making col-lapses boundaries between dominant and alternative cinemas, the explosion of black, lesbian and postcolonial theories has stimulated the presence of feminist film-makers in the independent and black workshop sectors. As film-makers of vitality and steadfast vision, their racial, sexual, cultural and diasporic explorations attest to the polyphonic nature of British feminist film making. They include Sankofa’s Maureen Blackwood and Mar-tina Attile, Ngozi Onwurah, Pratibha Parmar and Gurinder Chadha, whose Bhaji on the Beach (1994) signalled the stirrings of a black-Asian female foray into the mainstream.
   Further reading
    Erens, P. (ed.) (1990) Issues in Feminist Film Criticism, Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press (a comprehensive anthology of classic feminist film essays).
   SATINDER CHOHAN

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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