Alice Guy-Blaché was the first female film director, the creator of the first film to feature an all-African-American cast, and the co-founder of the largest pre-Hollywood film studio in the United States.
Hey, it has been a while since I’ve indulged my obsession with early silent movies. Time to introduce Alice Guy-Blaché, one of the pioneers of modern film-making.
Guy-Blaché was born in France and moved between there, Switzerland, and Chile until her father died suddenly and she took up work in a photography company. When that company fell under new management (including Gustave Eiffel for some reason) her boss Léon Gaumont acquired a film camera. In 1896, Guy-Blaché began making films.
For the next ten years she was almost certainly the only female filmmaker in the world, and she produced hundreds of films in that time (most, alas, now lost). This film of a serpentine dance is quite beautiful:
Or if you prefer broad comedy, try her 1906 film The Consequences of Feminism – in which men must stay home and sew hats while the women are out boozing, fighting, and flirting:
Alas, the real consequences of feminism were some way off, because when she got married in 1907 she had to resign her position. She and her husband moved to the United States, and within three years they began their own film studio, Solax Studios. It was enormously successful, at the time one of the biggest and most profitable in the United States. Influential, too: Metro Pictures made their money distributing Solax pictures, and Goldwyn Pictures rented studio space from Solax, and later those two companies would merge with Louis B. Mayer Pictures to form Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, or MGM.
Solax Studios produced a film in 1912 called A Fool and His Money, the very first film to feature an entirely African-American cast. Only parts of it still survive, and you can watch them here:
The good times did not last for Solax: a combination of film production moving to Hollywood, the aftereffects of the 1918 pandemic, and a studio fire in 1919 sent the company into bankruptcy. Guy-Blaché left the United States and the film industry too – she died in 1968.