As the genre most inextricably linked to America, the Western has always been malleable enough to be reconfigured and revised to reflect the current moment and its values, with each generation interpreting the past through its own lens. Traditionally set during the Civil War era, both U.S.- and internationally-made Westerns have centered on a country in transformation, as the railroad extended west and frontier towns grew into cities. To many the Western is seen as a typically masculine genre bringing to mind iconic images of John Wayne and Monument Valley, but while sublime desert landscapes coupled with the machismo of the great American cowboy are important elements of the genre, the West was not won by men alone.
Women have always been present in the genre as supporting figures: wives, sisters, preachers’ daughters, teachers, prostitutes, etc. But this series highlights Westerns that focus on a female protagonist, foregrounding the importance of women both to the Western genre and to the history of the American West itself. Spanning the early days of cinema all the way to the 21stcentury, and encompassing a number of films written and directed by women, this series aims to construct a narrative indicating the varied roles women played in shaping this country and more broadly the ways that the film industry has told stories of our western foremothers: the sharpshooters, hustlers, entrepreneurs, bandits, and all-around resilient women who worked as hard as men to maintain normalcy amid an inhospitable landscape.