Guest editors Jesse Olszynko-Gryn, Patrick Ellis and Caitjan Gainty write:

Reproduction is one of the most persistently generative themes in the history of science and cinema. Today we have grown accustomed not only to the once controversial portrayals of sperm, eggs and embryos in biomedicine, but also to the clones and monstrous creations of dystopian science fiction. But how has reproduction shaped film (and the other screen media) and vice versa? This special issue will begin to answer these and other questions.

In the first paper, Patrick Ellis recovers the neglected film theory of New York suffragette Electra Sparks, who advocated that pregnant women should go to the movie theatre in order in order to form positive ‘mental pictures’ and so produce attractive, healthy children.

In the late 1920s, Chicago obstetrician Joseph DeLee transformed the birthing room into a film studio and the motion-picture camera into a medical tool for ‘streamlining’ childbirth. Caitjan Gainty examines DeLee’s efforts as well as his later objections to The Fight for Life (1940), a documentary about DeLee’s own maternity ward.

In the mid-twentieth century, Hollywood studios sent their screenplays to censorship bodies for approval and recommendations for revision. David A. Kirby argues that censors preferred mythic versions of motherhood instead of what they believed to be the sacred but horrific biological reality of human reproduction.

The BBC made headlines around the world in 1957, when it televised footage of an ‘actual birth’ for the first time. Salim Al-Gailani recovers the history of the production, distribution and screening of the footage, originally intended for use in the antenatal class.

Changing norms have in some cases been bolstered by advertising campaigns. Jesse Olszynko-Gryn shows how product placement propelled the commercial rise of the Clearblue home pregnancy test by embedding it in British soaps, sitcoms and rom coms.

Finally, Janina Wellmann discusses present-day attempts by systems biologists to create a ‘digital embryo’, a computational model that enables the visualisation of development at the cellular level in real time.

Together, these papers invite historians to take moving images as seriously as they do print media and to further explore a vast and still mostly uncharted history.

Picture credit: Screen capture from Alien: Covenant (Ridley Scott, 2017). Produced by Scott Free Productions; distributed by 20th Century Fox.