Academy Award-winning actress Geena Davis spoke today in partnership with the BFI London Film Festival to discuss something she deems much greater than herself or her body of work: Gender equality. Davis took to stage today as part of the first ever Global Symposium on Gender in Media, presented by LIFF in conjunction with the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media (GDI) and Women in Film and Television (WFTV).
Having landed her first film roles because of her work as a model, Davis is tired of females playing the “eye candy” for the lead male role. “It was always in my mind how women are portrayed on screen,” said Davis during the symposium. Especially with the overwhelming reception of “Thelma & Louise,” she was in tune with the fact that the film industry was getting it wrong.
It wasn’t until she had a daughter of her own that she realized just how distorted the ratio of girls to boys on screen really was and decided to do something about it.
Her “spidey sense” about how girls were outnumbered 1 to 3 on any given G-rated film made her worried for how her daughter would come to develop her self-esteem and sense of worth. She recalled being outraged at the fact that preschoolers are forced to watch content that is backwards for the 21st century. “As a mother, it was appalling to me that we would be showing such an imbalance — such an unfair picture to kids — I didn’t plan on founding an institute over it and devoting my life to it, but I found that nobody else seemed to notice [not even] my feminist friends with daughters,” Davis said.
With the drive to protect her daughter and the rest of her generation from a skewed representation of gender, Davis went to studio executives of the shows her daughter was watching. “Every single person I asked said, ‘no, no, no; that’s not a problem anymore. That’s been fixed.’ And they were very sincere about it! ‘We work on that, and we care about that, we think about that constantly, so we made such and such movie’ and it would name a movie with one important female character as proof that gender imbalance had been fixed,” she said.
Davis believes that her advantage is due to the fact that she’s talking about the well-being of children. “I pointed out that 17% of crowd scenes in animated movies are female and their jaws just dropped,” said Davis.
Showing female characters having the same kind of adventures and aspirations as their male counterparts should be the norm, in Davis’ opinion. It is the primary reason why she partnered up with the BFI London Film Festival this year as it celebrated its opening night with the UK premiere of Sarah Gavron’s “Suffragette.” The festival’s intention to celebrate female filmmakers as much as the fight for gender equality matches Davis’ pursuit with the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. It is partially because of the growing popularity of the 50:50 Parliament campaign (a petition that aims to change the ratio of women to men in British Parliament from a ratio of 3:7) that the London Film Festival honored “Suffragette” last night and why Davis has also gotten on board.
It seems being “impatient for change” is the something that the BFI London Film Festival and Geena Davis are struggling with every day. It just shouldn’t be the case that “the ratio of male to female characters has been exactly the same since 1946 in films,” said Davis as she closed her speech.
Check out Davis’ mission about the gender imbalance in children’s media in the short film above.