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Geena Davis: ‘Give Female Characters More to Say … Give Them More Clothes’

Geena Davis called for gender parity in the entertainment industry in an impassioned speech at the London Film Festival Thursday morning.

Speaking at the third Global Symposium on Gender in Media, and the first outside the U.S., presented by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media in association with the BFI and Women in Film and Television (WFTV), Davis drew particular attention to the representation of women and girls in children’s programming where male characters out-number females three-to-one.

“Surely in the 21st Century we should be showing kids that boys and girls share the sandbox equally. Let’s not embed a negative image,” said the Oscar-winning actress. “We are unwittingly training generation after generation to see men and women as unequal. We need to dramatically change the way women are depicted to children aged 11 and under.”

Davis opened the half-day event by focusing on the underlying issues of gender inequality that she said many in the industry don’t acknowledge exists.

“I’d ask executives about gender inequality and to a person they would say ‘that’s been fixed,’” Davis told the industry audience before revealing one statistic showing that crowd scenes in movies feature on average just 17% women. “I can’t imagine why that is. Perhaps Hollywood writers think women don’t gather!”

She said the issue of gender parity in film and her passionate advocacy for improving the image of women on film had come from her work on 1991’s “Thelma and Louise” and remained a driven commitment ever since.

“In the media it was a furore, both positive and negative,” said Davis of the film’s dual female leads. “It brought home to me how few opportunities we women have to identify with characters on screen. That’s one of the best parts of watching a movie and we are robbing women of that opportunity.”

“Women are seriously under-represented in almost every sector of society across the world,” she continued, saying that the entertainment industry is one of the few where that inequality can be redressed almost overnight. “The change must be immediate and dramatic.”

“I want reaching parity in films to seem fun and easy and creative. Give female characters more to do, more to say, greater aspirations … give them more clothes,” said Davis in conclusion. “And don’t listen when people say it’s been fixed. We need to look to the numbers and make the sweeping changes that need to happen and make them now.”

The event came hot on the heels of the previous night’s European premiere of Sarah Gavron’s “Suffragette,” which opened the festival. Festival director Clare Stewart opened the symposium saying that the film, which boasts female producers, director and writer as well female characters, is “setting the tone for this year’s festival.”

Stewart said the BFI and LFF had an important role in highlighting two issues: “the importance of positive roles for girls and women in front of the camera and the volume of women directors behind the camera.”

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