Prof nominated for Edgar Allan Poe Award

“My mom introduced me to Agatha Christie novels when I was a kid and as a teenager my dad introduced me to Perry Mason, the old TV re-runs,” said Philippa Gates, associate film professor at Wilfrid Laurier, in an interview with The Cord. “I’ve always liked the crime genre.”

Gates, who published Detecting Men: Masculinity and the Hollywood Detective Film in 2006, followed up the book two years later with 2011’s Detecting Women: Gender and the Hollywood Detective Film which looks at the progression of the female detective in Hollywood cinema from the beginning of sound film.

Detecting Women: Gender and the Hollywood Detective Film was recently nominated for the prestigious Edgar Allan Poe Award, an annual honour awarded by the Mystery Writers of America to commemorate the best in mystery fiction, non-fiction, television, film and theatre.

“The original project was to look at male detectives in the 30s and 40s,” Gates explained. “I found all these films that no one had ever talked about and I got kind of angry that here was this contribution to classical Hollywood film that women were making as characters, pushing the genre forward, that’s been largely unacknowledged.”

Gates ultimately decided to focus on female detectives in her second book, saying, “I felt like I had helped map out the history of the male detective but I was as guilty as anyone else of ignoring these women who represented an important shift in the genre.”

“We tend to think of feminist film beginning in the 70s so I became compelled to explore whether we could see these films in the 30s offering any feminist or proto-feminist message.”

On the progression of female detectives in film, Gates noted, “The films of the ‘30s are in some ways the most progressive, they seemed the most ready and able to accept a female detective that was feminine and attractive to men but also incredibly masculine in her ability to fight crime. That’s a combination detective fiction and film has really struggled with since the ‘80s.”

“From the ‘40s to today there’s an assumption that if the female is the detective, her professional and her personal life are going to clash. Can she be a woman, get married, have kids and a career that’s normally what guys do. That is still the dominating film of contemporary film, as soon as you have a woman in a male role, can she balance her masculinity and femininity,” expressed the professor about the issue of gender roles in crime film.

“It seems a combination that just can’t work, whereas in the ‘30s it was embraced. Maybe that’s just because of the social era; I argue, that, because it was the depression, women did have to go out and get work, they had to put off getting married and having kids — it was a social reality. Maybe that’s why where was this time period where these female characters were embraceable to audiences.”

The Edgar Allan Poe Award winner will be announced on Apr. 26 in New York.

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