Two-time Oscar winner, and star of Thelma & Louise, is coming to Montreal on November 17th.
Geena Davis always wanted to be an actress. She started her career as a model. Inspired by Lauren Hutton, she thought she could transition from model, to actress; “Because becoming a super model is so easy” she often jokes.
Her modeling career never took off, but her acting career began when she scored a part in Tootsie. She then starred most notably in The Fly, Beetle Juice, The Accidental Tourist, Thelma & Louise and A League of Their Own.
I’ve been a long time fan. I still remember how Thelma & Louise impacted me. We all remember seeing Brad Pitt for the first time. But it was Thelma and Louise’s solidarity that stuck with me. The ending of that movie immortalized Susan and Geena’s status as bad ass feminists.
In her new must-read memoir, Dying of Politeness, Geena shares her story. She shares how she found her voice. Raised to be polite above all else, not surprisingly, it took her a long time.
She cites Susan Sarandon as having a huge impact on her. She had never seen a woman voice her opinion on set without apologizing before. You can hear all about her awful experiences with Bill Murray. Her late in life diagnosis of ADD, and the accompanying shame it caused throughout her life. She shares that at 40, the job offers stopped coming in. “I never thought it would happen to me, but it did.”
Geena is an Olympic level archer, she is a member of the genius society Mensa, a Hollywood movie star, and now a published author. She has been married four times. She became a mother at 46. She is an incredible woman.
But the reason I want to hear her speak, is because of the Geena Davis Institute On Gender in Media.
Have you seen the documentary This Changes Everything? You’ll find out more about the impact of her work. Some of the biggest female power players in Hollywood share their experiences with gender discrimination. The documentary highlights the disparity of female directors to male directors in Hollywood.
The Geena Davis Institute investigated and discovered that in the US film industry, only 8% of directors are women, coupled with 19% of producers and 13.6% of writers.
Geena Davis Uses The Data
The story goes, that when Geena was watching cartoons with her two-year-old daughter, she noticed that most of the characters were male. She started talking to Hollywood executives about the problem, and they kept saying, “No, No, that’s been fixed.” She was determined to show them the truth.
Geena commissioned the largest study in Hollywood evaluating female representation in children’s television. Her strategy was to use the data to reveal the unconscious gender bias. When she showed the executives (Disney, Pixar etc.) the data, they were shocked. The institute continues to collect data to influence both casting, and who gets employed behind the scenes.
The ripple effect of her work, especially with regards to children’s television, is important to note. She has been awarded an Oscar, and most recently, an Emmy for her work.
The Emmy was presented by Shonda Rhimes and Sarah Paulson. I think it’s safe to say that Shonda is a pretty powerful player in Hollywood. I remember when I watched Shonda’s Master Class, I was struck when she quoted Geena Davis. Geena challenged Shonda when writing, to switch up the gender of her characters, to always be inclusive.
“The fact is – women are seriously under-represented across nearly all sectors of society around the globe, not just on-screen, but for the most part we’re simply not aware of the extent. And media images exert a powerful influence in creating and perpetuating our unconscious biases.”
However, media images can also have a very positive impact on our perceptions. In the time it takes to make a movie, we can change what the future looks like. There are woefully few women CEOs in the world, but there can be lots of them onscreen. How do we encourage a lot more girls to aspire to lead? By casting droves of women in STEM, politics, law and other professions today in movies.”
– Geena Davis, Founder & Chair, Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media
Why does it matter? For me, it comes down to my daughter’s perception of herself. I am very conscious about what I say, how I act, and what I let her watch. I know that what I do impacts by example. But I also think about how television and movies shaped how I saw myself and my future. If the lead character on a television show is not a girl, I point her in the direction of a female-led option. I don’t ever want her to think that she is just the side kick, or just the PYT. I want my daughter to know that she runs the show and that her voice matters. Luckily, thanks in part to Geena Davis, we have more options now.
A friend recently said to me “I don’t see my life on tv. I don’t feel represented.” I started the podcast series 40% Facts with three friends in part to represent four real-life working mothers. We talk about how we juggle work, make our dreams come true, and parent. We talk about the creative process. We talk about failure, shame and fear. All important obstacles to overcome when forging your own creative path. I’d love to turn it into a documentary one day.
Women over 40 are rarely cast in lead roles on television, let alone women over 50, 60 and beyond. I hardly look to television to feel represented. I end up re-watching the same shows because the options are so limited. I look to podcasters, writers, and the female power players on and off screen. I look to my friends. I look to women like Geena.
I write and make podcasts to lift women’s voices. I do it because I want to inspire women to use their voice, to take chances. It takes time and effort to have the courage to speak up. We are all so obsessed with getting it right, or being polite in Geena’s case, that often times we don’t even give ourselves the chance to try.
I think it’s important to throw your hat in the ring. I know it can be exhausting to try to get people’s attention with so many voices on-line, but if you have the desire, I think it’s important to do it, no matter the size of your audience. You never know who is listening. You never know who you will influence.
How do you feel about your age? Who do you look to for inspiration? How do you feel about aging? Do you feel seen? Do you feel represented? Does And Just Like That make you feel seen? If not, what show does? If you could make a television show, what would it be about? Who would star in it?
I would make a movie about a woman who finds her voice once she learns to be her own friend.
Finding Your Voice Matters
I find it fascinating that Geena had such a strong feminist image onscreen, but only found her power later in life. Why is it that as women find their power, their representation onscreen diminishes? Maybe it’s because the obstacles magically go away once we stop people pleasing and so there would be no tension left to make the story interesting? Or is it just that so few women give the green light? I think it’s so liberating that social media removes the gatekeepers. We can be writers, directors, actors, producers, publishers and really – whatever we want. If only we had more time and energy on our hands.
As I write this, I think to myself, that what I can do as a creative working mom, is keep creating, in the time that I do have during the week. Writing this reminds me how important it is, to me. That finding our voice, no matter how long it takes, has merit. For our daughters. For our friends. And ultimately, for ourselves. Finding our voice, figuring out what we want to say, and how we want to say it, is the ultimate treasure hunt.
If I do meet Geena, and we do end up in a convertible, we won’t drive off a cliff; but we will definitely become best friends.
But seriously, I can’t wait to sit back and enjoy her. A moment in my week, just for me. I can already hear the standing ovation. I hope I get to meet her. I would feel proud to stand next to her. To meet a woman who has been a beacon of inspiration. To stand next to a women who uses her influence for our daughters, who steps into the ring and makes it a point to do something to impact the future. That would feel good. I’ll be doing a recap of the evening on Mitsou Magazine, so stay tuned.
FYI – Geena Davis is 66 years old, and she’s still acting, which she loves to do. She will be playing alongside Channing Tatum in Zoe Kravitz’ directorial Debut Pussy Island. She also has some other projects coming up.