Geena Davis is a talented and renowned actress, best known for her roles in several major films. Davis is an experienced, well-respected actor among her colleagues in Hollywood; yet, no one listened to her when she first began to share her concerns about underrepresentation on screen. As a young mother, Davis noticed that many of the shows her daughter watched did not feature prominent female characters. Troubled by the lack of representation, Davis reached out to powerful connections in Hollywood to address how to resolve the issue. However, no one gave any serious thought to what she was observing in the media. Determined to address the unconscious gender bias in the entertainment industry, she turned to collecting data. She founded the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media to conduct her own research on the gender imbalance within entertainment media. Geena Davis is at the forefront of using data-led research to change the visibility and characterization of women in the entertainment industry.
The purpose of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media is to bring about gender parity and reduce harmful stereotyping within the entertainment industry. When Davis first began to look into gender bias, she quickly realized that there wasn’t any data on the subject. She founded the research institute in 2004 in order to perform her own in-depth research about the portrayal of women in the media. Her research found that women were severely underrepresented compared to their male counterparts, including in screen and speaking time. Davis’ research even discovered that when female leads had significant speaking time, it was largely dedicated to talking about the men and their activities. Geena Davis recognized that everyone–both men and women–have unconscious bias, but since men still dominate the executive positions in Hollywood, their biases have a larger impact in the media more than women’s biases do.
Geena Davis has used the data collected by the research institute to advocate for and encourage content creators to look at their work with a new lens to ensure that they are producing inclusive and diverse content. The research institute has held symposiums, salons, and seminars to share its findings with major networks and production companies in the entertainment industry. Davis’ research has been successful in creating a positive change in equal gender representation. More than half of the executives in the entertainment industry who are familiar with Davis’ research have changed at least two of their projects in order to better represent women. These changes could have been increasing the amount of female characters, developing their character arc, and/or involving their dialogue. In addition, the number of female leads in children’s television has significantly increased so that it is now equal to the number of male leads.
Beyond the data, Geena Davis continues to advocate for representation of strong female leads in the media. On top of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, Davis now carefully selects the acting roles she takes on. As a talented actress, Geena Davis has a multitude of options to pick from, but she is now only interested in playing compelling and powerful women. In 2015, Davis founded the Bentonville Film Festival to highlight and share the projects of women and underrepresented identities. By supporting diverse content creators, the Bentonville Film Festival Foundation strives to make mainstream media more inclusive. Also, Davis is the executive producer of the Netflix documentary This Changes Everything. The documentary looks into gender discrimation in the entertainment industry and shares the stories of several top actresses in the industry today. Geena Davis is an inspiring role model for ambitious women who stand up for what they believe in, no matter what people say.