Brain Pickings

The First Feminist Film (1922)


A woman, a gun, and a practical joke gone awry.

Feminist film is among the 100 ideas that changed cinema, but when did it really begin and how did it first manifest? In 1922, French writer, critic, and director Germaine Dulac (1882-1942) directed the pre-Surrealist silent film La Souriante Madame Beudet (The Smiling Madame Beudet), considered by many the first truly feminist film. It tells the story of an intelligent woman trapped in a loveless marriage, whose husband has made a running practical joke of pointing an empty revolver at himself and pretending to shoot himself. One day, Madame Beudet, beset by her hopeless situation, puts real bullets in the revolver, but is soon plagued by remorse. Before she can retrieve the bullets, however, her husband gets to the revolver — except this time he points it at her. She manages to escape the bullet by a hair, but her husband assumes she was trying to end her own life, so he embraces her and professes his love.

The film is now in the public domain and is available in its entirety:

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