Who does not know her? Actress Geena Davis, famous for her leading role in Thelma & Louise, a feminist road movie about two housewives who break out of their daily lives. Only a few years earlier she had won an Oscar for best Supporting Actress in The accidental Tourist. And just recently I saw her in the television series Commander in Chief where she played the role of the first female President of the United States (where she constantly fights with this dreadful old, conservative Speaker of the House, played magnificently by Donald Sutherland) who came to power after the death of the male president. So who does not know this great actress?
Less well known over here in Europe however is her founding the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media in 2007. She was inspired to do this when she realized the lack of female leading characters in children’s TV series and cartoons while watching television with her 2 year old daughter. Thanks to being a well known actress she was able to raise the money to conduct an apprehensive and comparative study on gender in children’s entertainment. The study was carried out by Dr. Stacy Smith at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication. The results were a real eye opener when they were published earlier this year.
• Fewer than one out of three (28%) of the speaking characters (both real and animated) are female.
• More than four out of five (83%) of the films’ narrators are male.
• 85% of the characters are white, 5% are black, and less than 10% are from ‘other’ ethnicities.
However, when women are decision makers behind the scenes, the number of female characters in a film increases.
Geena Davis motivates her activism by stating simply: ‘Kids need to see entertainment where females are valued as much as males.’ Her goals are to dramatically increase the presence of female characters and to reduce the stereotyping of females in media aimed at children. She wants to reach these goals by collaborating with the entertainment industry and therefore uses her position as a well known award winning actress. Davis stresses the responsibility of the entertainment industry because of its importance as an export factor. And as the formidable advocate she is, she uses every opportunity to raise her voice. This quest has brought her to places that can make a difference. On February 22, 2010, she delivered the closing keynote address during a United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) special event.
I was very impressed when I learned about this initiative and Geena Davis’ activism. Now I wait for a Dutch or even European actress to stand up and follow her example.
Visit the website of the GDIMG at http://www.thegeenadavisinstitute.org/about_us.php