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InDavis set out to collect data about the portrayal of girls in media. It was a delicate proposition for a veteran actor, one with an Academy Award no less, who was hungry to keep landing major roles. In the early s, Davis had noticed that her daughter, then a toddler, watched TV shows that featured few, if any, female characters.
And who better to address gender bias than a celebrated actor and mother, one with a Mensa membership and the respect of her Hollywood peers? If only it were that simple. Coming on the heels of the scandals involving Hollywood executives and producers like Harvey Weinstein that have roiled the industry, those words resonate more deeply than ever. Inshe decided to collect data about the portrayal of girls in media and to build a body of fact-based research that would prove her theory.
When she learned that such information did not exist, she created the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media to begin her own in-depth research.
The institute has used new technology to continuously monitor industry progress toward gender parity. Davis has spent the last 15 years delivering the to the skeptics, disbelievers, and elite power players who would have been content to let men rule Hollywood. In media targeting children age 11 and under, girls were appearing on screen less, and when they did appear they were hypersexualized or they spoke little.
This was edgy and delicate work, especially in an era when women actors were subjected to one-on-one hotel room interviews. Now Davis is getting some hard-earned recognition for her efforts to discuss unconscious bias and ingrained stereotypes a decade before they were mainstream concepts. Other diners play it cool around the star, dressed in a sweatshirt and sneakers. She told USA Today in that a director once asked her to act out a sexy scene sitting on his lap. She did, she said, not realizing that she could say no.
Instead, her feminism was mobilized by a system that denied girls a vision of what they could be beyond the role of a girlfriend or sex object. The institute has even found that when girls and women do get to speak, their dialogue is often about the activities of the men around them.
The work has become an absorbing passion for an actor who never planned on being an activist. Davis cofounded the Bentonville Film Festival in to champion the work of women and underrepresented artists in media. Davis even took the time to write to the internationally syndicated cartoonist who creates Mutts to object to a depiction of worker bees in a recent comic strip as male.
She asked her music teacher where people go when they want to study acting. He told her BU. The catalog image helped Davis land a role in the Oscar-winning comedy Tootsiestarring Dustin Hoffman. The part, she says, required her character to appear in her underwear. Within a few years, she was starring in major box office productions, like The Flyopposite her future husband, actor Jeff Goldblum. But it was easily overshadowed by her Academy Award—winning performance as the wacky dog trainer Muriel, in The Accidental Tourist.
She says the role changed her life, and her friendship with Sarandon endures.
Photo courtesy of MGM Licensing. She flashes her famously dimpled smile before getting serious. Yes, the film is ultimately tragic. Davis says the response to the film was so eye-opening, she decided she would select roles only after considering what women viewers would think of her character. The star-studded cast included Tom Hanks and Madonna and garnered Davis a Golden Globe nomination for best performance. Davis says that as she entered her 40s, the offers to play interesting or meaty roles simply dried up.
Because it would be a career killer if you complained. It was supposed to be a hobby, but she almost made it to the Olympic Games in Sydney, finishing Hollywood girl saying need help out of at the US national championships. Her institute has taken on gender bias with a similar zeal.
Crowd scenes? Mostly male. Animated movies? Predominantly male. Fictional space colonies invented by writers and producers? Inhabited by men and boys. And throughout, a persistent lack of fairness in the representation of people of color. The work has been largely behind the scenes, leveraging industry connections in the highest echelons of Hollywood. Institute funding has helped pay for groundbreaking projects, like technology that can identify unconscious or hidden bias. Both women and men have these biases, but because men still control government and business, including film and media, theirs has a greater impact, Davis says.
To be sure, women directors and producers are demanding more power in the industry, shifting the stories Hollywood tells and creating new film and TV opportunities, not just for women actors but for viewers. Wonder Womandirected by and starring women, was the third highest grossing film in North America in But these changes have not fundamentally altered the landscape for women.
Over two years, it created what is known now as the GD-IQ IQ stands for Inclusion Quotientbilled as a revolutionary tool with the ability to analyze a film to determine the of speaking roles held by women and men, and the percentage of time men speak compared to women. It made it possible for researchers to quickly analyze massive amounts of data with new precision. The technology is proprietary, and Di Nonno will not name or even disclose the of companies that have used it. The from an analysis of the top-grossing films of were disturbingly familiar.
Male characters outed female characters two to one when it came to lead roles 59 percent to 26 percent and dominated screen time 61 percent to 39 percent and speaking time 64 percent to 36 percent. Despite the lack of parity, it also found the of women in lead roles had doubled since But after 15 years, what are the gains being made? The institute Hollywood girl saying need help the majority of entertainment industry executives familiar with its research have changed two or more projects.
That could mean altering the aspirations or occupations of female characters, or increasing their s or dialogue. Nina Tassler, who was chief of CBS Entertainment in and who shepherded shows like The Good Wife and The Big Bang Theorysays her network was one of the first to bring the Davis Institute in-house to talk with the programming department about how to use the tools it developed to identify bias and create more and better roles for women.
They were both aware of their positions as women in an industry dominated by men, she says, and both believed that female representation could be improved in a spirit of collaboration. A premium was placed on politeness growing up, she says, adding that if she were to write a book, she might call it I Almost Died of Politeness. InDavis starred as a woman who tries to comfort her ailing mother with a holographic projection of her late husband in the drama Marjorie Prime. She persuaded the director to add the role of an year-old girl to give the movie greater gender diversity.
In addition to critical plaudits, including six Oscar nominations and a win for best screenplaythe movie was a box office hit. A League of Their Own was similarly heralded as a beacon of a new era. As it turned out, neither film brought sweeping change, and that stagnation inspired the wry title of This Changes Everything.
Actors Natalie Portman, Rashida Jones, and Reese Witherspoon are among the women who speak out in the documentary about persistent problems, like the fact that just 8 percent of the top films in the United States were directed by women. The institute, meanwhile, continues to develop new tools and partnerships, including an initiative with Walt Disney Studios to analyze scripts for gender bias.
At the same time, Davis remains laser-focused on finding quality roles, though it remains a challenge, she says. The industry, after all, is notoriously unkind to aging female actors. Boston University moderates comments to facilitate an informed, substantive, civil conversation. Abusive, profane, self-promotional, misleading, incoherent or off-topic comments will be rejected. Moderators are staffed during regular business hours EST and can only accept comments written in English. Statistics or facts must include a citation or a link to the citation. This is an excellent article showing the challenges of inspiring change in the media industry.
The work of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media actually draws upon the theoretical premise of Cultivation Theory — that images in the media affect perceptions of the real world. The late communication scholar George Gerbner actually pioneered cultivation research, including the media portrayals of women and minorities. Davis ran with the work started by Gerbner. Boston University More Publications.
The Brink. February 18, Twitter Facebook. Geena pioneered the field of research on gender in media. The series was Hollywood girl saying need help by women and has a largely female cast. She sent up the flares. She appeared in two other major box office productions that year: Beetlejuice and Earth Girls Are Easy.
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