Filming Feminist Frontiers/Frontier Feminisms (1979-1993)
Cummins, Kathleen Anna
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Filming Feminist Frontiers/Frontier Feminisms is a transnational qualitative study that examines ten landmark feature films directed by women that re-imagined the frontiers of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the U.S through a feminist lens. As feminist feature films they countered Eurocentric and masculinist myths of white settlement and expansionism in the grand narrative tradition. Produced between 1979 and 1993, these films reflect many of the key debates that animated feminist scholarship between 1970 and 1990. Frontier spaces are re-imagined as places where feminist identities can be forged outside white settler patriarchal constructs, debunking frontier myths embedded in frontier historiography and the Western. A central way these filmmakers debunked frontier myths was to push the boundaries of what constitutes a frontier. Despite their common aim to demystify dominant frontier myths, these films do not collectively form a coherent or monolithic feminist revisionist frontier. Instead, this body of work reflects and is marked by difference, although not in regard to nation or time periods. Rather the differences that emerge across this body of work reflect the differences within feminism itself. As a means of understanding these differences, this study examines these films through four central themes that were at the centre of feminist debates during the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. These are: female authorship, motherhood and the maternal, paid labour and the economy, and sexuality. The study examines whether these women’s frontier films were successful at pushing the feminist agenda forward. In order to answer this question, this study uses an interdisciplinary method of analysis deploying feminist theory, feminist historiography, frontier historiography, film theory, and genre theory. The films in this study are: Gillian Armstrong’s My Brilliant Career (1979), Tracey Moffatt’s Bedevil (1993), Sandy Wilson’s My American Cousin (1985), Anne Wheeler’s Loyalties (1986), Norma Bailey’s The Wake (1986), Merata Mita’s Mauri (1988), Jane Campion’s The Piano (1993), Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust (1991), Nancy Kelly’s Thousand Pieces of Gold (1991), and Maggie Greenwald’s The Ballad of Little Jo (1993).