Kristin Lené Hole, Dijana Jelača, E. Ann Kaplan, Patrice Petro (eds.): The Routledge Companion to Cinema and Gender

London and New York: Routledge, 2017, ISBN 978-1-138-92495-6, 492 p.

Raluca Iacob
feminism; film; theory; gender; cinema; spectatorship; author; genre; transnational cinema; feminist filmmaking; female subjectivity; LGBTQ+ cinema; queer cinema; cinema and environment.

“The relationship between cinema and gender is never static”, the editors of The Routledge Companion to Cinema and Gender write in the book’s introduction. Indeed, the anthology addresses the topic of feminist cinema from a variety of shifting perspectives by offering a complex array of views, inasmuch as to provide a reader with a complete understanding of the topic. The wide range of topics (to list just a few: sound, socialism, authorship, (post-)colonialism, film reception, audience, fandom, Hollywood, world cinema, ecology, post-cinema) discussed in the volume can be explained by the editors’ wish to appeal to a larger audience. In fact, the book is part of a series of companions to studies in gender, which offer a range of complimentary topics to those listed above. The series includes, for example, The Routledge Companion to Media and Gender, as well as companions focused on specific cultures (Japanese, Latin America) or genre (comic books).

The comprehensive, almost 500 page, Companion to Cinema and Gender contains 43 essays grouped in five parts. The book follows a methodical structure, expanding from theoretical and aesthetic approaches to experiences of filmmaking and reception, and finishing with a general reflection on the future of gender in cinema. Therefore, Part I focuses on a theoretical perspective on gender in cinema, Part II moves to a discussion of form, film styles, and stars before it moves to analyses of feminist filmmaking practices in Part III and the questions of reception and spectatorship in Part IV, to finish with a projection of the role of gender in the future of cinema in the final part.

Part I, “What is [feminist] cinema?” – a play on the title of Andre Bazin’s books What is cinema? – gathers together nine chapters on the theory and taxonomy of feminism and cinema. While all of these chapters give insight into the variety of histories and theories of feminist cinema, Aniko Imre’s chapter, “Gender, Socialism, and European Film Cultures” provides a novel perspective on the matter, precisely because it looks at the relation between gender and film through the prism of socialist television. This strategy, writes Imre, is a move away from the auteur-based approaches to cinema of the socialist countries that tend to focus on just a few directors from the region, allowing one to consider the specificities of gender in relation to both filmmakers and spectators (Imre 2017: 88–89). Socialist television is, states Imre, a much more viable medium for understanding the complexities of relationships between authority and the public as well as those of gender dynamics. To illustrate her argument, Imre focuses on both how the content of these programs addresses gender issues (through the subject matter and the characters represented) and the gender composition of audiences. Imre observes the discrepancy between the new socialist ideology, which encouraged women to take an equal part in the workforce, and the opportunities for women to watch TV, as they had little time left due to the burden of housework and child-rearing, apparent in the early socialist years. In analysing TV programming, Imre notes that in the first years of socialist television, the ideal TV viewer was “white, heterosexual and male” (ibid.: 93), however, as early as in the 1960s a shift occurred, where programs directed specifically at women and aiming to address the woman question appeared on TV. Turning to popular TV programs and their reception in the exploration of gender and feminist issues proves to be a productive approach as it reveals pertinent information and a more ample perspective on the subject within the socialist Eastern Bloc. Bypassing the “entrenched histories of a bipolar Cold War order that favours masculine or male figures representing their respective national populations” (ibid.: 95), looking at the role of television in socialist societies demonstrates the agency of women in constructing socialist citizenship.

I find that the volume does a good job of allowing the reader’s perspective on the subject to go beyond what is presented in each respective entry by including further reading suggestions at the end of each chapter and thus allowing for connections both within the same part and across different parts of the anthology to form. In the case with Imre’s piece, the suggested further readings are: Lingzhen Wang’s “Chinese Socialist Women’s Cinema: An Alternative Feminist Practice”, Sandra Ponzanesi’s “Postcolonial and Transnational Approaches to Film and Feminism”, and Priya Jaikumar’s “Feminist and Non-Western Interrogations of Film Authorship” in the same section and in other related parts of the book. Among other contributions to Part I are Patrice Petro’s overview of classical feminist film theory, Sandra Ponzanesi’s discussion of feminism in film from a postcolonial or transnational perspective, Lucy Fisher’s study of Mai Zetterling’s Loving Couples (1964, Sweden). The frequently overlooked connection between sound and feminist cinema is the topic of Kathleen Vernon’s chapter. Sumita Chakravarty focuses on cinema and migration, specifically on the protagonists’ confrontation with the (im)migrant ‘Others.’ Sally Chivers spotlights topics of age and disability; Lingzhen Wang – like Aniko Imre – proposes a look at socialist (Chinese) cinema as a counterpart to Western cinema; Amy Borden discusses LGBTQ+ cinema which, according to her, is able to disrupt narratives of identity.

Part II, “Genre, modes, stars”, contains nine chapters that showcase multiple approaches to gender within the framework of genre and stardom. Specific topics include the changes in the slasher genre in relation to feminism (Anthony Hayt), the variants of the chick flick genre (Hilary Radner), feminist porn (co-written by Constance Penley, Celine Parrenas Shimizu, Mirelle Miller-Young and Tristan Taormino), and comediennes in silent cinema (Margaret Hennefeld). In his piece on transnational stardom, Russell Meeuf elaborates on gender representation in cinema alongside questions of stardom in the transnational flow of cultural subjects, such as the action film stars Jackie Chan and Jason Statham. In her study of the femme fatale archetype, Julie Grossman focuses on the figure of Maria Enders played by Juliette Binoche in Olivier Assayas’ Clouds of Sils Maria (2014, France/Germany/Switzerland), who is doubled both through her change throughout the film and through the figure of the younger Jo-Ann Ellis, played by Chloe Grace Moretz. Binoche’s Maria, argues Julie Grossman, is a point through which gender representation is reassessed, as the way in which Maria’s storyline unfolds highlights both the repetitive symbolic representation of the femme fatale figure and the changeable nature of her position. To this, Grossman writes: “She is a dynamic figure of female power who will not ‘stay still’ […], but she is also a changeling figure that helps us understand the gendered nature of power relations in society and culture” (Grossman 2017: 171). In “The Documentary: Female Subjectivity and the Problem of Realism”, Belinda Small focuses on female subjectivity and realism in documentary film – a genre that she considers notable for the study of feminism. Small focuses on two specific examples, Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell (Canada, 2012) as well as First Australians (2008, Australia) by the Australian filmmaker Rachel Perkins, to argue that the revival of the documentary genre has brought about more recognition for women directors – a tendency much more likely to occur in documentary than in feature film. This chapter pairs well with Pryia Jaikumar’s piece from Part I and Debra Zimmerman’s “Film Activism and Transformative Praxis: Women Make Movies” in the following part: in that, the three of them highlight the importance of considering the role of women filmmakers as transnational authorial figures. But even more so, it marks a connection between the representation of female-centric subjectivity, which this part of the book is primarily concerned with, and women’s film practices, which constitutes the core of the following part.

Part III, “Making movies”, that contains another nine chapters, focuses on women filmmakers while exploring such topics as authorship in non-Western contexts (Priya Jaikumar), a short historical overview of the works by black women filmmakers (Jacqueline Bobo), representation and gender politics (Eylem Atakav), a case study of the New York based association Women Make Movies (Debra Zimmerman), or the contributions of women to silent (Jane Gaines) and studio-eras in Hollywood (J. E. Smyth). Priya Jaikumar’s chapter in this section advances the discussion on authorship beyond the Western ‘patriarchal’ criteria which Andrew Sarris’ theory1 was criticised for. While protesting the tendency to (still) critically favour male directors over their female counterparts in granting them the ‘author’ label, Jaikumar’s argument reaches the paradox of film authorship: while in other arts the author equals the artist” in its singular configuration, film is a medium that implies collaboration, which makes attribution of a given film to a single author problematic. In that respect, Jaikumar resists the binary opposition of author theory as a mode of defining the idea of authorship. However, her focus on the dominant discussions in the historical evolution of the concept of authorship limits the argument to the theories originating mostly in the 1960s and 1970s. It is this background that allows Jaikumar to argue for a view on authorship that would also include non-Western or feminist approaches, calling for an increased appreciation for “visible and invisible authors behind every text and performance” (2017: 212).

The focus of Part IV, titled “Spectatorship, reception, projecting identities”, turns to the questions that have been a concern for feminist theory for decades: the gender composition of audiences. The eight chapters included in this section offer a number of perspectives on spectatorship and audiences, varying from theoretical approaches – the idea of spectatorship in Gilles Deleuze’s writings (Felicity Colman), the correlations between feminism and film reception studies (Janet Staiger) – to applied case studies – studying the reception of Nollywood productions (Ikechukwu Obiaya), the connection between classical Hollywood and modernity (Veronica Pravadelli), or the study of ageism and desire in lesbian cinema (Rachel A. Lewis). Claire Pajaczkowska’s chapter “Psychoanalysis Outside and Beyond the Gaze” traces the psychoanalytical dimension of the gaze and its place in relation to feminist theories, exploring other modes of convergence between psychoanalytic and feminist theories. By exploring how the rapid technological developments of the last decades, with the wide availability and extensive presence of filmmaking devices and social media networks, have changed the relationship (and in part erased the differences) between visual content creation and spectatorship, Pajczkowska moves beyond the classical theoretical framework of psychoanalysis in film studies and presents an updated reading and exemplification of contemporary film apparatus and the spectator’s position within it.

Part V, “Thinking Cinema’s Future”, envisions an outlook for the place of gender in cinema, based on the noticeable trends and tendencies in the industry. Of the eight chapters included in this part, three contributions focus on cinema and the environment. Questions of ecocriticism had been addressed in studies on cinema before, as a form of understanding the activism embedded within films of different genres and approaches,2 yet, in this case, the exploration of the relationships of gender and the environment brings forth the common points of championing for both gender rights and ecology. E. Ann Kaplan’s “Visualising Climate Trauma: The Cultural Work of Films Anticipating the Future”; Alexa Weik von Mossner’s “Ecocinema and Gender” and Jennifer Peterson’s “Green Porno and the Sex Life of Animals in the Digital Age”3 – highlighting in this way the spread of green culture and the possible future role of film in creating an eco-conscious population. However, this concluding part contains several other interesting contributions, such as a chapter on feminist transnational cinema in the US (Katarzyna Marciniak), an allegorical reading of the representation of class and gender in online performativity (Erica Levin), and the gender variance of transgender films, productions, and their reception (Eliza Steinbock). Dijana Jelaca’s chapter “Film Feminism, Post-Cinema, and the Affective Turn” addresses the ways in which the convergence between the technological changes of post-cinema (primarily concerning the effect digitisation has on film art) and affect theory can potentially influence our understanding and knowledge of feminist theory. Analysing two music videos that contain references to specific moments in the history of cinema (“Telephone” by Lady Gaga and Beyonce and “Bitch better have my money” by Rihanna), Jelaca highlights how the “pop singer is both a feminist and a non-redemptive threat to the status quo, who cannot be entirely contained by female subjectivity or the feminist project” (Jelaca 2017: 455). As this chapter (and more broadly the section) addresses an envisioned future for feminist theory, seen through the lens of the present and the past (feminist film theory), it is – for the most part – the realm of conjecture, which, while bold and forward-looking, remains tentative and incomplete. Herein lies perhaps the book’s strength – as well as its liability – as it presents a field of study in continuous development and innovation, a dynamic area of scholarly debate.

One of the qualities of the book that I particularly appreciate is the concerted effort to look beyond the scope of Western case studies, adopting a global perspective in its overall content. However, if there was one issue that I have found with the book, it has been its almost exclusive focus on the experience and the place of straight cisgender women in the film industry (which, to be fair, was acknowledged in the introduction) almost to the complete exclusion of other perspectives. From the collection of forty-three essays included in the anthology, only two directly address other genders and identities – one written by Amy Borden, “Queer or LGBTQ +: On the Question of Inclusivity in Queer Cinema studies” in Part I, the other written by Yvonne Tasker on “Contested Masculinities: the Action Film, the War Film, and the Western” in Part II. While this concentration on female subjects is acknowledged from the beginning, it would have been interesting to see a more diverse basis for the feminist debate, that moves beyond the classical approaches to the concept of gender. While this collection has been published as the #MeToo movement was growing, that highlighted the disparities that still exist for women and the problems of toxic masculinity and sexual harassment in the film industry, the collection provides a basis for new dialogues on gender issues. That being said, it is essential to address other types of gender identity as well, and not fall into a trap of cultural myopia of normative gender identity.

Iacob Raluca
Independent researcher


1 Sarris’ theory, which defined the author as a recognizable signature of the director and a recurring motif across a number of mainstream films, generally spotlighted European or American male directors.

2 See, for example, Paula Willoquet-Maricondi’s Framing the world: Explorations in ecocriticism and film (2010).

3 In the new edition of the book, this title was changed to “Cinema, Animal Studies and the Post/Non-Human,” according to the publisher’s website. This change brings about a milder and more generic description of the contents of the chapter. While the descriptions seem to address the same contents it is unclear why the choice of changing the title was made.


Raluca Iacob is an independent researcher and documentary film distributor. She obtained a PhD in Film Studies from the University of St. Andrews, Scotland having defended a dissertation on contemporary Romanian cinema. She has published some of her findings in the journals Film Criticism, and Apparatus. Film, Media and Digital Cultures in Central and Eastern Europe and in the edited collections New Romanian Cinema and Contemporary Balkan Cinema: Transnational Exchanges and Global Circuits. She is currently working to develop her PhD thesis into a manuscript.


Bazin, André. 1967. What is cinema? Berkeley.

Carter, Cynthia, Linda Steiner, and Lisa McLaughlin, eds. 2015. The Routledge Companion to Media and Gender. London.

Gaut, Berys. 1997. “Film authorship and collaboration.” In Film Theory and Philosophy, edited by Richard Allen and Murray Smith, 149–172. Oxford.

Willoquet-Maricondi, Paula, ed. 2010. Framing the world: Explorations in ecocriticism and film. University of Virginia Press.


Polley, Sarah. 2012. Stories We Tell. National Film Board of Canada.

Perkins, Rachel. 2008. First Australians. Blackfella Films.

Suggested Citation

Raluca, Iacob. 2022. Review: “Kristin Lené Hole, Dijana Jelača, E. Ann Kaplan, Patrice Petro (eds.): The Routledge Companion to Cinema and Gender.” Special issue of Apparatus. Film, Media and Digital Cultures in Central and Eastern Europe 14. DOI:


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