Feud, ‘hagsploitation’ and female work in Hollywood film

Authors: Pullen, C.

Start date: 29 June 2018

Ryan Murphy’s eight part drama series Feud (2017 FX, USA), tells the story of the alleged bitter rivalry between Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, largely framing their appearance together within Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (Robert Aldrich 1962, US). A central premise within the series is the emergence of ‘hagsploitation’, a cruel derogatory term allegedly defined by Hollywood mogul Jack Warner, apparent in his vapid exploitation of older female actresses encouraging them to work within the horror genre. Finding little opportunity of being offered appealing roles for older women, Crawford and Davis were forced to stereotype themselves as older women in physical and psychological decline, in meeting new tastes of voyeuristic consumption within Hollywood film.

Developing the earlier work by Peter Shelley (2009) in Grande Dame Guignol Cinema which informs ‘hagsploitation’, and the significance of females involved in media production as defined by Erin Hill (2016) this paper relates mythologies of decay and decline, which inform the representational order for older females. Feud is an ambivalent text: whilst it exposes histories of abjection, in some senses it perpetuates those representational worlds.

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