Women Have Been Fighting For a Place In Hollywood Long Before You Might've Guessed

(Film pioneers Mary Pickford and Frances Marion.
Image courtesy of Wichita Films and OCS)

The subject of women's role in the Hollywood machine is not only an age old tale, it's a constant one. Further, it still continues to be an uphill battle. In November, 2015, The New York Times published a feature by Maureen Dowd entitled "The Women of Hollywood Speak Out," with the opening line stating, "Female executives and filmmakers are ready to run studios and direct blockbuster pictures. What will it take to dismantle the pervasive sexism that keeps them from doing it?" But the truth is, women have been running the show since the advent of Hollywood - something that most people don't know. Debuting at Cannes on May 16th, a new documentary entitled The Women Who Run Hollywood, discusses that very subject - women like Mary Pickford and Mabel Normand were directing and producing as early as 1905. Directed and produced by French sisters Clara and Julia Kuperberg, the cinematic duo who run their own production company, Wichita Films - have a laundry list of Hollywoodian docs to their credits already and have worked with seminal filmic entities like Scorsese and Coppola - were even themselves shocked at how so many women were under the radar. Here they talk about the challenges and surprises of making their film.
(Julia and Clara Kuperberg. Image by Frederic Basset)

What was the impetus to create this documentary?

Clara Kuperberg: The initial idea came a while back when we were working on another documentary on the evolution of women's roles onscreen in Hollywood, from the weepies to the chick flicks of today. At the same time, we discovered this other part of Hollywood - the women behind the camera, and after two years of research, we discovered a sea of women - many unknown - who started out in Hollywood as early as 1905. Even after working on 30 films on the Golden Age of Hollywood, we discovered women we'd never heard about!

(Dorothy Arzner. Image courtesy of Wichita Films and OCS.)

During this filmic journey, what did you learn?
Kuperberg: That Hollywood was run by women from 1905 to the late 20's - they were heads of studios, directors, screenwriters, producers - it's amazing these women are virtually unknown.

Were there any major revelations? As you said, you have done many films on Hollywood, but just curious if there was something new and different that really shocked you?

Kuperberg: Yes, the biggest revelation, is that this story about those women had been totally forgotten as something historical - in movie history, and in books. It really shocked us, because after having spent so many time in Hollywood, doing interviews of scholars, historians, nobody never talked about any of those women. It's as if they have never existed.

(Lois Weber. Image courtesy Wichita Films and OCS.)

There are many high profile women from today in your film. Do you feel - after making this film - that women are still undervalued within the Hollywood system? Why do you think that is so?

Kuperberg: As Robin Swicord says in the documentary, "A man after two video clips can be the director of the next Spiderman, never for a woman. A man can fail and still work, a woman; never." Kathryn Bigelow was the first woman director to win ever an Oscar (for The Hurt Locker)...and at that point, the Academy Awards had been around for 76 years!

(Mabel Normand Image courtesy of Wichita Films and OCS.)

What is the ONE thing you want people to take away from your documentary?
Kuperberg: To remember those women, and give them back their rightful place in the American film history. They invented the cinema as we know it; they were more powerful than any men at that time, higher paid, doing all the jobs, and creating the first studio! Names like Lois Weber, Frances Marion, Dorothy Arzner, Alice Guy, Mary Pickford, Cleo Madison and so many other women need to be recognized for their contributions to what has become Hollywood as we know it today.