When Oscar-winning actor Geena Davis starred in 1991’s “Thelma & Louise,” she was shocked at how many women came up to her on the street and told her how inspiring the movie was to them. For her, this was a wake up call to the inequities within on-screen gender representation.
“It made me realize that we give women so few opportunities to come out of a movie feeling inspired by the female characters,” Davis said in the most recent installment of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ “Academy Dialogues.” “So from then on, I decided that I wanted to choose roles with the women in the audience in mind. What are they going to think about my character? How is it going to make them feel?”
Davis was joined by chair of The Hollywood Commission Anita Hill, filmmaker Alma Har’el, composer Laura Karpman and EVP of Creative at Sony Pictures Animation Karen Rupert Toliver to discuss the ways in which they have experienced gender inequity in Hollywood, and how the gap can be decreased.
For Har’el, who directed last year’s “Honey Boy,” she strives to construct complex, layered stories surrounding women, as opposed to always presenting them as perfect.
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“There has been somewhat of a limiting expectation when we now talk to women directors to represent a certain identity for women, whether it’s only writing or directing things that have a certain kind of role model or things like that,” Har’el said. “I also want to see flawed women. I want to see women directing men’s stories. I want to step out of that box of the expectation of women only being hired for certain stories.”
Beyond storytelling, Karpman is working to break the mold of how a woman can sound with her work as a composer on HBO’s “Lovecraft Country.”
“These women emerge in these powerful, powerful positions, and it has been my honor to score them with music that’s almost appropriated from a genre that has been typically male,” Karpman said. “It’s giving these Black women what has been perceived as throughout film scoring history as white, male superhero music. And to have a woman, me, and a Black man, Raphael Saadiq, create this music for these strong female characters has been a crazy and really, really beautiful experience.”
However, Toliver — who co-produced the Oscar-winning short “Hair Love” — contends that in order to have true equality, women must also gain more representation within the executive realm.
“We want our work to reflect the world that we live in, and we know that people that are marginalized understand why they want a seat at the table and they want their voice heard,” Toliver said. “But until the people that have the seat at the table and already have their voice heard understand at a gut level that that has to happen and they want it, then we’re going to be putting requirements and quotas. And if there’s not women leading and making decisions, if we’re off on a vacation, what decisions will be made when we’re gone? How does it become so systemic in that way, where it just is what it is?”
Watch the full discussion below.