Book Review--Backwards and in Heels: The Past, Present and Future of Women Working in Film

Backwards and In Heels: The Past, Present and Future of Women Working in Film
Alicia Malone
Mango Publishing, 2017

I’ve been an admirer of film reporter and critic Alicia Malone ever since she came across my radar as a presenter for the FilmStruck streaming service. If you want to cover classic film as a reporter, you can’t study it, you have to have had a pile of VHS tapes stuck somewhere back in your childhood. It’s got to be in your blood. This is true of Malone, as she describes in the introduction of her powerful book Backwards and In Heels: The Past, Present and Future of Women in Film. She seems to have retained every film fact she’s ever learned through long years of fandom and she’s got great insight into everything she's absorbed, which makes this review of the female element of Hollywood all the more meaningful.

Despite being shut out of many opportunities over the years, the history of women in film is the history of film. Backwards and in Heels focuses on the Hollywood industry, which in its early years was filled with powerful women, only changing when making movies became a business and men took over. Malone follows the story of women in Hollywood from the silent years to the current day. As can be expected, it is often a frustrating history; we have lost so much simply because the talents of women, a half of our population, have been underused in the American film industry. There is also hope though, as seen in the stories of women like Geena Davis, Sherry Lansing Ava DuVernay and editor Joi McMillon who have pushed forward with passion, determination and creativity. Women have a long way to go in Hollywood, but they are definitely on their way.

Malone has selected an interesting array of women to spotlight in the profiles that make up the bulk of her book. Her focus is intersectional and she covers creative, executive and technical areas in her survey of female professionals. Her intention is to provide a brief overview of various issues and women in the interest of inspiring readers to dig deeper into each subject. There is a great list of books for further reading in the select biography for further information.

I found this a satisfying reference in itself though; it would be a great starting point for anyone interested in the history of Hollywood. As much as they were denied, women have innovated a lot in this industry, from Dorothy Arzner inventing the boom mike and Ida Lupino and Lois Weber bringing social issues to popular cinema, to Margaret Booth all but creating the concept of film editor as the first person to hold that job title.

Malone has become a strong advocate for the promotion of women in Hollywood, including giving two Ted talks and several other speaking engagements. Her voice is incredibly valuable, because as she makes clear in the book, we are starting to see progress because the conversation about achieving parity in Hollywood is now ongoing and alive. As long as people in the industry keep talking, these issues will remain top of mind. I hope that she will continue to lead as a voice for this issue, speaking for the women who built Hollywood and those who will push it forward into a much more inclusive future.


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