THE BLOG

Women, Film, and Censorship, What We Can Learn From Pre-Code Cinema

17/02/2015 14:34 GMT | Updated 17/04/2015 10:59 BST

2014 gave rise to a surge in discussion around feminism; media coverage of the topic increased as countless celebrities publicly addressed prevailing gender inequalities, while over on twitter #everydaysexism was trending as one user went viral with a campaign highlighting her experience of day to day chauvinism, inspiring others to share their stories.

The trend continues in 2015 with perhaps the most encapsulating example being the announcement last month that the Sun newspaper had finally ended its long-standing and very public love affair with bare breasts. The statement - announced by sister newspaper the Times - was neither denied nor confirmed by the Sun, but prompted a wild response from opponents and advocates alike, social media was alight with the news, and online news outlets large and small ran rolling updates of the story's latest break.

This was, however, seemingly in vain, for a few days later on January 22nd, the well-known mammalian feature was once again adorning the Sun's third page, accompanied by a small disclosure stating, "We would like to apologise on behalf of the print and broadcast journalists who have spent the last two days talking and writing about us."

But what the situation and the subsequent reaction has succinctly illustrated is our preoccupation with and interest in the representation of women in the media. At a time when - despite being a fully modernised world in most others senses - women still fail to receive pay packets equal to their male counterparts, the need for women to be portrayed as equals in mainstream media has never been more critical. This inequality permeates both sides of the camera, with women being at a distinct deficit not only in terms of on screen gender stereotyping but also in finding jobs in the film industry, with only 17% of positions held by women as of 2014.

This isn't only a modern issue, since the dawn of commercial cinema in the early 19th century women have been subject to censorship and gender stereotyping, and it's this historical narrative which artist Nina Fowler explores and disseminates in her work. Focusing on the shady underbelly of early Hollywood, Fowler seeks to uncover the dark-side of the golden days of cinema through her carefully crafted charcoal drawings, highlighting the emptiness and anxiety so effectively concealed by the glitz and glamour of the industry.

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Nina Fowler, 'Merrily' 2012

In celebration of the current crowd funding campaign to publish the inaugural monograph of Fowler's work, This Sunday 22nd February The Cob Gallery will be holding an evening screening of pre-code film Merrily We Go to Hell by 1930s filmmaker Dorothy Arzner. A fascinating insight into this unusual period in celluloid history, the film epitomises the 'anything goes' nature of pre-code cinema, where instead of shying away from the illicit and profane, filmmakers openly presented and paraded the unsavoury realities of life.

Interestingly this period also saw women playing characters with power and screen presence that would subsequently be absent from female roles in cinema for decades, as The Hays Code brought an abrupt end to this brief window of female liberation. In 2015 when almost every projection of women is edited or amended in some way (take this now infamous video for example) the evening - Women, Film, Censorship: The Consequences of Suppression in Cinema offers a window into the progressive nature of the pre-code cinema makers operating from 1929 - 1934, and initiates discussion and thought into how it relates and contrasts to the censorship and portrayal of women in contemporary cinema and the wider media.

All attendees of this Sunday's screening and talk will receive a limited edition poster print of Nina Fowler's pre-code inspired drawing 'Tallulah', and an opportunity to pre-order a copy of Measuring Elvis. All proceeds from ticket sales will go directly towards the artist and gallery's campaign fund.

For more information about the event and to buy tickets please see here.

To learn more about and donate to the BORN campaign to publish Measuring Elvis, Nina Fowler's first monograph of works to date please see here.