By Danielle Sekel
As part of the REEEC Virtual Summer Research Lab, Dr. Michele Leigh and Dr. Lora Mjolsness presented a public lecture on their forthcoming publication, She Animates: Soviet Female Subjectivity in Russian Animation. This volume was compiled largely through Leigh and Mjolsness’s research and collaboration done over the course of two summers at the Summer Research Lab, and it brings a welcome new addition to the existing conversation of not only film and animation history, but also women’s cinema.
Their research offers a close examination of twelve female animation directors in the Soviet Union and Russia, considering their contributions within the historical, cultural, and industrial aspects of animation. Their volume is framed by the concept of women’s cinema, challenging the fact that when one is asked to think about Soviet and Russian cinema, most often male directors come to mind. While it could be said that the same is held to be true in animation, there is a perhaps surprising amount of female animation directors who have made a name for themselves despite being largely ignored over time. This monograph works to reclaim the rightful place for these female animation directors within the larger conversation of Soviet and Russian film.
Of particular importance are the ways in which these directors have challenged the ideological norms of femininity in the Soviet Union and Russia; indeed, as Leigh and Mjolsness argue, the gendering of these works is instrumental in understanding the importance and impact of female animation directors’ contributions. Through a carefully curated examination of directors from both Soviet and post-Soviet eras, they weave a narrative demonstrating contributions to creating a women’s cinema in these spaces. Animators discussed range from the Brumberg sisters (Valentina and Zinaida), to more recent women, including Nina Shorina and Yulia Aronova. It is through looking at the works of such women in Soviet and Russian film and animation that we can see the creation and continuation of a Soviet female subjectivity that is still present in Russian women’s cinema today.
She Animates: Soviet Female Subjectivity in Russian Animation is set to be released through Academic Studies Press in September 2020.
Danielle Sekel is a graduate student in musicology at the University of Illinois. Her research interests focus on current works of LGBTQ artists in Bulgaria and Bosnia & Herzegovina.