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First published online March 22, 2010

A Film of One’s Own: The Animated Self-Portraits of Young Contemporary Female Animators


This article analyses animated self-portraits created by contemporary young and emerging women in animation, and elucidates significant differences between this new generation of women animators and previous ones. Through their animated self-portraits, the animatrices from previous decades explored their own identity as women and artists, developing new discourses and models for a subgenre that existed from the early days of cinema animation. But the animated female self-portrayal of the new generation comes closer to documentary and has more universal concerns, appealing to a wider audience and reaching theatrical distribution; Marjane Satrapi’s feature-length animation film Persepolis (2007) exemplifies this and is a focus of the article.

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1 A shorter version of this article was presented at Persistence of Animation: The 21st Annual Society for Animation Studies Conference, hosted by the Savannah College of Art and Design, Atlanta, 10—12 July 2009.
2 The notion of the self-portrait in animation derives from painting, much as autobiography relates to literature. Self-portrayal refers to the image of authors; autobiography to the tale of their lives. Animated self-portraits imply the iconic appearance of authors in their own works, even when no personal concerns are mentioned in the film, as we can see in David Ehrlich’s compilation Animated Self-Portraits (1989), which includes 27 animated clips by animators such as Bill Plympton or Osamu Tezuka. In these 15-second clips, the face of each author becomes recognizable; but more importantly, we can identify each author through their visual style — for instance, Bill Plympton’s self-portrait behaves as an animation by Bill Plympton, disassembling and reassembling the features of his face as if they were made of clay, recalling his best-known films. On the other hand, even though a wide range of films can be considered autobiographical, since they take episodes from the author’s life, I will only consider for analysis those that include the presence of the author as an animated figure or as a voice over.
3 The presence of female leading figures at major studios has been rather scarce in the past, with a few exceptions such as Sylvia Holland as well as Mary Blair’s powerful presence at Disney Studios during the 1940s and 50s. Nowadays, although still not comparable to the volume of male directors in mainstream production or in other sections of the animation industry — for example, educational institutions or independent production companies — a growing presence of female filmmakers, comparable to their male colleagues, can be observed.
4 According to Jacques Derrida in Mémoires d’aveugle (Memoirs of the Blind) (1990), the self-portrait is always a hypothesis because artists cannot look directly at themselves while they paint. Therefore, such pictures can only present a conjecture to the viewer (p. 24).
5 Surprisingly, the production of the first long animated feature — Brujerías (Witchcraft), directed by Virginia Curiá — in which the leading team and production crew were exclusively made up of women began in Spain in 2009. However, the purposes of this premise not only seem outdated (becoming a case of positive discrimination) but also remain dubious since the director of the film has produced most of her films in collaboration with a male partner, Tomás Conde.
6 Susana García Rams (2004) calls this creative union — or marriage of opposites — a ‘coniunctio’, the ultimate step towards the expression of Alchemic Gold (p. 26), that takes place in the work of women in animation who worked alongside a male partner, such as Lotte Reiniger, Faith Hubley, Gisèle Ansorge, Joy Batchelor and many others (p. 458).
7 ‘Reality can be more interesting than fiction. Reality and relationships. With my parents. With my brother. With my friends. With my grandma. And relations between a man and a woman. I like to watch people. I like to observe their faces, to create the stories hidden behind the words’ (Michaela Pavlátová, This Could Be Me, 1995).
8 (consulted: November 2009).


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Published In

Article first published online: March 22, 2010
Issue published: March 2010


  1. authorship
  2. autobiography
  3. feminism
  4. graphic novel
  5. independent animation
  6. Persepolis
  7. self-portrait

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© The Author(s), 2010.
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Issue published: March 2010
Published online: March 22, 2010



María Lorenzo Hernández
Faculty of Fine Arts, Universidad Politécnica de Valencia, Spain, [email protected]; [email protected]

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