Is your video essay watchlist a bit of a boys club? Don’t worry. We’re here to help.
I watch a lot of video essays. You probably do too. They’re the hot new thing in film analysis and with good reason: they’re engaging, informative, thought-provoking, and tend to make their viewers more critical and appreciative cinema-goers.
They’re also — to quote critic and video essayist Lindsay Ellis — “a sausage fest.”
The gender disparity present in video essays is nothing new. It reflects a wider cultural disparity in film culture that will hopefully one day crumble into the sea.
When I pitched this article, one of my senior colleagues asked me if I knew of any “good” female video essayists. It was an offhand comment, and it points to something important. Male creative types get to be popular and worthy of our attention without their value being called into question. They don’t get asked upfront “but are they any good?”
Written essays have been a “feminine” medium for ages, from Joan Didion, to Susan Sontag, to Zadie Smith, to Roxane Gay. But video essays seem to take after the film industry’s gender bias. Which is mighty. And probably (read: definitely) not helped along by the internet’s hostility towards visible, opinionated women — which is especially felt by women of color and queer people.
I seek out female directors and podcast hosts and generally try to make sure I’m not living in a dude-exclusive echo-chamber. I — like a huge fucking portion of the population — crave the perspective of women, and feel their absence. The other day I realized that, with the exception of Ellis, I couldn’t think of a single non-dude video essayist and I wanted to change that.
The following essayists are creative, insightful, and funny film critics in their own right. They also happen to not be cis dudes. They deserve to be followed, subscribed to, referenced, quoted, and credited.
This will be the first time I’ll be happy to see a “but you forgot ___!” comment. While this article is necessarily incomplete, please tell us about any creators that we’ve missed!
Enjoy, and happy watching…
Lindsay Ellis | @thelindsayellis
Ever since her time at Channel Awesome, Ellis has been a wealth of insightful, lucid, and devastatingly funny film analysis that makes me laugh, cry, and want to be a more thoughtful consumer of media. Her 40-minute long investigation into the big, beautiful disaster that is Disney’s Hercules is a must watch for anyone with a penchant for production drama and the heat death of traditional animation.
Candice Drouet | @Candice_Drouet
We are very big Douret fans here at FSR. From her breakdown of all the references in the films of Wes Anderson, to her look at all the paintings that inspired cinema, to her inquiry into the overwhelming similarities between A Clockwork Orange and Fight Club: her videos are lyrical, insightful, and your new favorite thing.
Anna Catley | @cinecatic
Catley’s essays are delicate and stylish, and her ability to gracefully bounce from film to film is well worth emulating. Also, her essay on Die Hard’s Christmas status does a solid job of granting the debate some much-needed analytical terra firma.
Grace Lee | @whatssograce
We’ve covered Lee’s work on FSR before and with good reason: she’s an expert at tackling dense and challenging content with a keen eye, elegant flourish, and overwhelming cultural fluency. P.S. her essay on Lost Highway does some stellar intertextual heavy lifting, and actually made me feel like I *got* Lost Highway for a minute or two which is no small feat.
Susannah McCullough | @suzybraggaluck
In addition to being the site’s co-founder and Chief Creative Officer, Susannah McCullough is the writer, director, and voice behind ScreenPrism‘s video essays. With production value for days, captivating visuals, and compelling narration, McCullough’s back catalog is a veritable treasure trove for any film lover.
Shannon Strucci | @plentyofalcoves
Strucci is a great example of two of my favorite parts of video essays: 1) that blissed out buzz you get when you feel like you’re learning something; and 2) that inviting personal touch that’s emerged as an often-sought tenor in the internet age. Check out her nearly hour-long intro to film and filmmaking. It’s a great starting point for anyone interested in film but unsure of where to start.
Cristina Álvarez López | @LaughMotel
One half of “a pair of the most insightful video essayists out there,” López is another FSR favorite delivering lyrical looks at everything from the ultra-stylized mise en scene of Raw Deal, to the ecstatic acceleration and speed of The Girl on a Motorcycle, to the queer subtext of Godard’s Masculin Féminin.
Taylor Ramos | @glassesattached
If you’re a fan of video essays you’ve seen Ramos’ work. She’s the uncredited other half of Every Frame a Painting, which she co-wrote and co-edited with Tony Zhou. And while EFP is over (RIP), their glorious back catalog is still knocking about for your viewing pleasure.
Affrica Handley | @WNTTAF
Affrica Handley is delightful, smart, and perceptive. Curious about how the shape, ratio, and font of typography plays out in film? She’s got you covered. Want to feel academic while drooling over the food in Please Like Me? Done.
Catherine Grant | @filmstudiesff
In addition to being a wicked smart video essayist, Grant runs “Audiovisualcy,” an online form for videographic film studies that acts as a helpful repository of audiovisual film crit. Audiovisualcy was created in 2011 and with over 1,740 videos, you’re bound to stumble onto something to shake up your watchlist.
Jessica McGoff | @jcmcgoff
Observant, whip-smart, and ready to make you think about that piano wire scene from Audition again, McGoff is a worthy watch. She’s got a soothing Scottish accent and the uncanny ability to make heavy duty film analysis look effortless.
May Leitz | @Nyxfears
Leitz consistently delivers well-researched, reflective, and hilarious takes on the ooky spooky, bizarre, and everything in between. Their analysis of The Holy Mountain (above) is a stupid good time, and their love of Phantom of the Paradise is contagious (and for the initiated, very relatable). Leitz is somewhere between Mystery Science Theatre and the coolest kid in your film studies class and I love it.
(author’s note: since the title of this article does not reflect this, it’s worth clarifying that McNeal is non-binary)
Luiza Liz | @luizaliz
Coming to us from Art Regard, Liz’s work is atmospheric, informative, and darn near poetic. From her celebration of female cinematographers to her examination of the transgressive films of Pier Paolo Pasolini, Liz has emerged as “one of the most intelligent voices in video essays.”
OTHER FOLKS TO WATCH
Margarita (@margaritapza) over at “Is This Just Fantasy?” recently released an impassioned plea for Age of Innocence‘s masterpiece status.