The Norman Transcript

Columns

June 30, 2014

Setting Hollywood straight on gender

NORMAN — Google Geena Davis and up pops the pose that established her as half of the “first selfie.” The iconic frame from “Thelma & Louise” was reprised and tweeted recently by her co-star Susan Sarandon.

The photo, and the movie’s recent ranking among Hollywood’s 100 favorite films, has the actor in the news. But what Davis has been doing behind the scenes in Hollywood is far more important than any trending celebrity story. In fact, it’s groundbreaking.

For years now, Davis has been holding closed-door meetings with Hollywood directors, studio heads, screenwriters, producers and casting agents — all the people that bring characters and stories to audiences. She’s pressing them on something that supposedly progressive Hollywood thought it had overcome years ago: the alarming disparities in how the genders are depicted on screen.

Consider something as humdrum and seemingly innocuous as crowd scenes. They’re overwhelmingly populated by male characters. Even in animated films, those kid-friendly box office hits that one might assume are held to a higher standard of inclusiveness, female characters are few and far between. Davis noticed this when she began watching movies with her then-toddler daughter.

In group scenes of family films, only 17 percent of the characters are female. The statistic holds almost regardless of setting. That figure, by the way, comes from studies conducted by the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism commissioned by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media.

That’s right. Davis didn’t let the matter drop. She decided to do something about it.

Other research analyzed nearly 12,000 speaking roles and found that only 11 percent of family films, 19 percent of children’s shows and 22 percent of prime-time programs feature girls and women in roughly half of all speaking parts.

Surprisingly, family films often are found to over-sexualize female characters. Teeny tiny waists, voluptuous curves ... we all recognize the non-lifelike proportions. Male characters didn’t suffer the same “eye candy” fate.

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