This essay considers the deployment of a nineteenth-century white-supremacist imaginary within popular culture and, more curiously, within feminist media historiography. Tracing the paradoxical figure of the “female film pioneer” to groundbreaking work by Ally Acker and Jane Gaines in the 1990s, I historicize how the “pioneers” initially functioned as strategic interventions in a white masculinist landscape, but argue that they have since become naturalized in post-millennial digital culture and are (mis)shaping the discourse of the field. Leaning on foundational texts by Ella Shohat and Robert Stam and Emma Pérez, this paper intervenes in the pioneer paradigm so prevalent in the study of the silent film era—and in discourse on female film and video makers more generally—calling for a proliferation of metaphors to provoke new insights into the very real challenges facing feminists in the present.

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