Melissa Llewelyn-Davies

Melissa Llewelyn-Davies is an anthropologist who is well known for her involvement in television and popular entertainment, This made her strikingly distinct in her work, given that many anthropologists shied away from the idea of exposing anthropological knowledge through media, believing this would diminish anthropolgy’s authentic value by degrading it to mass communication. Llewelyn-Davies’ involvement with television primarily began after she was hired for “Disappearing World,” a television show from the 1970’s produced by Granada Television International that featured different documentaries on people around the world.

This late 1970’s early 1980’s period is when Llewelyn-Davies was primarily working in the field. She was innovative in that she creatively brought together anthropology and television in a unique and meaningful way that challenged formal customs and traditions. She used television as a way to bring forth important anthropological knowledge and enhance anthropology’s public appearance in an enlightening and educational way. She helped promote television as a legitimate medium and ethnographic tool and has therefore influenced the field by doing so. She is well known for her work with the Masai people of East Africa, creating a series of films that were featured on television beginning with Masai Women in 1974, which was aired on “Disappearing World.”

Llewelyn-Davies attended the University College of London and received a degree in Social Anthropology. She then went to Harvard to get her PhD in Social Relations. However, once she began her fieldwork on the Masai, she never did, in fact, complete her PhD. Llewelyn-Davies was also heavily influenced by feminism, and her work with the Masai people placed a strong focus on women and their roles in society. One of her films, The Women’s Olamal, concerns a fertility ceremony performed by Masai women, captured and presented to a mass audience through Llewelyn-Davies’ use of television as a medium. While filming, Llewlyn-Davies would refrain from being on camera, as she wanted viewers to see what she saw. She also preferred films with little or no commentary. In her film Masai Manhood, it is clear that she gives a modest amount of commentary and is rarely seen on camera. When shown, she is conducting interviews with her subjects and is barely caught on camera. The focus continues to remain on the Masai and their community.