Hays Gone By: The Proto-Feminism of Pre-Code Hollywood and the Films of Mae West
Pre-Code Hollywood has famously been described as an alternative universe of American cinema, as looser censorship restrictions allowed filmmakers to explore adult themes of violence and sexuality far more openly than would be permissible under Joseph Breen and the Production Code Association. My thesis addresses how this era gave rise to a proto-feminist cinema through the transgression of Production Code rules pertaining to gender and sexuality. Though the Pre-Code era was no stranger to virulently misogynistic works, the lack of strict censorship allowed filmmakers to put forth depictions of independent women who were sexually active and in control of their lives. The epitome of this archetype is Mae West, who not only portrayed sex sirens with tremendous agency on-screen, but also took an active role behind-the-scenes as a screenwriter and should be considered the primary author of her films. Though West’s independence on and off-screen would diminish as the Pre-Code era ended, her work remains a trove of proto-feminist cinema through its subversion of male gaze and its consideration of a female spectator. Understanding West’s films, and the era which produced them, helps provide insight on the challenges faced by women in Hollywood, and more specifically, how women-centric art is often devalued and dismissed.
URI for this recordhttp://hdl.handle.net/1974/26444
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