Every Monday, Culturess chooses one woman in pop culture to be our Woman of the Week. These women inspire and empower us to kick ass, take names, fight the good fight, and live our best lives. Today, our Woman of the Week is Geena Davis!
The representation of women on film and in media is a major issue for many people in the industry. Every actress, no matter how successful, has her share of stories about the lack of good opportunities for on-screen roles. And even when they do work, actresses often face roles that are one-note or underdeveloped. The entertainment industry frequently asks women to choose between perpetuating a culture that devalues women or not working at all. Fortunately, many women in the industry are beginning to address this issue. But none of them have done so as persistently and seriously as Geena Davis.
Geena Davis in The Exorcist (TV), Screengrab via FOX
Geena Davis is the definition of multi-faceted. While she is best known as an actor today, even the beginnings of her career showed that she contained multitudes. She began as a model, worked her way into acting with a small role in the film Tootsie, and even wrote an episode of the first TV show she was cast in, Buffalo Bill. But it was her work in films like The Fly and Beetlejuice that cemented Davis as an up-and-coming actress. She even won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her work in 1988’s The Accidental Tourist.
But the more industry clout Davis acquired, the more selective she got with the roles she was interested in. Even today, you would have difficulty finding well-developed female roles. But with Davis’s roles in Thelma & Louise and A League of Their Own, Davis started making it a priority to work in films that prioritized the positive and complex representation of women. This has, of course, continued throughout her career. From the mid-2000s series Commander In Chief, in which she played the first female president, to her most recent role as a grown up Regan in the television adaptation of The Exorcist, Davis has focused on work that celebrates powerful and realistic women on screen.
But Davis’s personal choices about her projects are only the beginning of her activism for women’s media representation. In 2006, she founded the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. The non-profit organization researches the underrepresentation and misrepresentation of women in film, television, and other media. Through the Institute, we’ve learned about just how bad the representation problem is. For example, one of their studies discovered that in crowd scenes in G-rated films, only about 17% of the people are female.
Geena Davis uses the discoveries of the Institute to educate media executives and to advocate for better representation, especially in children’s media. Davis also founded the Bentonville Film Festival, which she designed to increase diversity in film. For consideration, a film must feature a woman or person of color, either on-screen or off. The festival propels these films with distribution deals, which puts more diverse work into the world.
Geena Davis is an incredible actress who has brought us feminist work in her own career. But even more important, she’s making it possible for other women to make and distribute other feminist work. Her own work, her activism, and her overall career as a badass makes her a perfect and inspiring woman of the week.
Thank you, Geena Davis!
You can find Geena Davis’s work here:
Geena Davis Institute: You can find Geena Davis’s eponymous institute on its website.
Bentonville Film Festival: Check out the Bentonville Film Festival, founded by Davis, on its website. And think about submitting your film for the next one!
Thelma and Louise: Watch one of Geena Davis’s most iconic and most feminist roles on Amazon Video now!