Shortly after it was announced that Geena Davis’ institute was partnering with the Sarasota Film Festival to conduct educational programs here, the movie star went over to meet with students at Booker High School, the first school which will benefit from the workshops.
At an event in the school’s theater auditorium, Davis spoke to the students about the importance of having more women in films, especially those aimed at children. Her institute has researched the presence of female characters in G-rated films and found a startling imbalance both in the the quantity of parts for girls and in the roles taken on by female characters.
The most common job for girls in children’s movies, she noted, was royalty (“a nice gig if you can get it”) and the most frequent ambition is romance. In animated films, even the body proportions are discouraging, with many female characters drawn with waistlines directly proportionate to their upper arms.
“The media do not reflect reality,” Davis said. “Don’t let yourselves become attached to narrow roles of male and female characters, and especially to the narrow roles girls are given, and also by the narrow waists characters are given.”
Davis took questions from the audience, a group of students with remarkable savvy when it came to film.
Sara Stolpe, for example, questioned Davis on why even female filmmakers like Sofia Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow make films dominated by male characters. While Davis said she could only speculate on those specific directors’ sentiments, she felt that many filmmakers regardless of gender can buy into incorrect notions about show business.
“I think it’s about, ‘I want to work on things that can get made and that people will see,’ ” Davis replied. “There is whole mantra that Hollywood lives by. They believe women will watch men but men won’t watch women… The fact is, none of that is true.”
Stolpe appreciated the response. “She gave as good an answer as she could. There is no great explanation why things are completely as they are. People have been raised where they are watching films with a significant gender bias since 50 years ago. It is something that can only slowly change over time.”