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Geena Davis Has Two Easy Steps for the Movie Industry

Yes, we can and will work to tell more women’s stories, listen to more women’s voices and write richer female characters and to fix the 5-to-1 ratio of men/women behind the camera. But consider this: In all of the sectors of society that still have a huge gender disparity, how long will it take to correct that? You can’t snap your fingers and suddenly half of Congress is women. But there’s one category where the underrepresentation of women can be fixed tomorrow: onscreen. In the time it takes to make a movie or create a television show, we can change what the future looks like.Geena Davis

The veteran actress and creator of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, which seeks to provide hard statistics on gender parity in film, television, and other mainstream artforms, has an essay up today on Pre-a-Reporter with a challenge for the film industry.

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  • Philip Lopez

    I read this the other day. I love Geena Davis so much now. I love how simple the two steps are and fear that even that is too much for some people.

  • Dan Wohl

    Brilliant article. Most filmmakers today seem vaguely aware of the need for female characters but they’re so unthinking about it … they figure if they have one “strong” female character, they’re set. So few are thinking about the very important point that Davis makes here: that the undying gender imbalance on screen of characters in general is deeply pernicious yet also something that most people, viewers and filmmakers alike, take for granted.

    It also speaks to the argument I made about Star Trek Into Darkness (a movie I enjoyed overall): while the Alice Eve underwear scene was very bad, in some ways the male-dominated admirals meeting scene was even worse and more inexcusable (especially given the future setting).

  • Lisa Liscoumb

    One of the (many) things I like about Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is that half the team are female and are, arguably, as kickass and/or brilliant as the male members of the team. And I don’t get the feelling, as I do with some other shows (NCIS, unfortunately, being one of them) that the female characters are there because “we have to have a girl on the show”..

  • Charlie

    Oh god it’s that simple. Why can’t they just listen!

  • Charlie

    Yeah I have a great love for AOS because of that. The women are characters not the dreaded ‘strong female characters’ :p

  • kbroxmysox

    Interesting that when I really think about it, in scenes with cops they are ALWAYS dudes. I hadn’t notice that before…

  • kbroxmysox

    Really? I feel that Skye falls under that title. She’s flawless, good at everything and always right.

  • TheChief

    If you are referring to generic rank and file cops, then probably yes. Disclaimer: I don’t watch a lot of police dramas. But they seemed to have good amount of upper level female cops.

  • J Ritchey

    Oddly enough, one of the uniformed officers in a certain scene in this week’s Arrow was a woman.

  • Katy

    I think that description applies to May then Skye.

  • Katy

    I agree, if anything the creators said “we need to have women on this show” and wrote a complimentary counterpart for each male character (or vice versa?). I’m not saying that’s how they planned it, but it kind of works that way. Ward and May are the “badass” characters, Fitz and Simmons (who I ship) are the “smart” characters, and Coulson and Skye are the “heart” characters. What’s nice about AOS is that even though they fall into archetypes, they are still fairly distinct personalities.

  • Katy

    I love this essay. Davis’s step 1 also removes the Smurfette Principal where the main characterization of the woman is that she’s a woman.

  • kbroxmysox

    I don’t feel May is flawless. She’s quick to anger, she’s closed and stand-offish. She’s prone to using the violent solution instead of the right one. She clearly has a darker side to her. Yeah she’s super strong and tough, but I feel she’s more layered than Skye who’s just SUPER.

  • kbroxmysox

    Yes, referring to the generic rank and file cops. I’d say the most famous cop on TV right now is a woman(Olivia Benson from SVU)

  • Charlie

    Skye isn’t perfect. I seem to remember her ejecting a magazine from a gun right at the wrong moment and nearly getting busted undercover… she’s also probably in over her head with the double agents business?

  • Unity

    That’s one of the only things seriously annoying me about Almost Human- it’s set 30 years in the future but everyone still defaults to male. Of the rank-and-file MX android cops they’ve remembered to include some POC, but the only female androids so far are literally sexbots. It’s bordering on creepy.

  • kbroxmysox

    The magazine clip was a “haha, she’s so funny and cute, no?” scene…And “nearly getting busted undercover” isn’t getting busted undercover, since she recovered from it completely.

    So far we know Skye is good at hacking, getting people in touch with their feelings, is right about the way SHIELD should handle things, is a delicate flower who should not be yelled, pretty much can do half of Fitzs’ job, is quickly forgiven for betraying the team, is able to, after never having down undercover work, think quickly on her feet and fool everyone. She always has a sly remark up her sleeve, despite living as recluse in a van has amazing clothes and social skills…She’s a special snowflake who is making everyone better…Her dad is probably a super villain(who’s dark heart she’ll brighten). Skye is the biggest problem on the that show for me. She’s just so blah and one dimensional.

  • Charlie

    I just think maybe you are overstating her ‘perfection’ if anything she’s a vehicle for the audience. An outsider whose questions allow us a way to learn more through the story.

  • Anonymous

    This is why I love Gena Davis.

  • Jake Mertz

    I’m something of a writer, and the thing is, I wouldn’t want to get to the point where I’m like “Oh, wait, there’s not enough women” or “I don’t have enough men”.

    When I’m writing, I let the story pretty much tell itself to me. Sometimes there will be a lot of men, sometimes there will be a lot of women, and sometimes there will be a lot of both. Things like worrying about the number of people of a certain gender in the story, or worrying about anything else, would impede the flow.

    I’m not comfortable with writing female characters. I worry, which impedes the flow of the story, that people will think, “oh, the female character is one dimensional” or “she’s the stereotypical badass chick” or “she’s just there for the hero to fall in love with” or whatever it is people complain about.

    The thing is, I’m a male. I know how males think, or, at least, how I, as a male, think. I don’t know how women think. It’s actually one of the reasons I’m on this site, to get some insight into that. When I’m writing a female character, it’s very difficult for me to “get into their head”. A lot of the time, they end up being basically, men with women’s body, or very stereotypical, because that’s what I know. I do know a lot about externals, what I can see women do, but not a lot about why they do it, what they’re thinking. I’ve never walked in a woman’s shoes.

    Another thing is, I’ve read books by women, and while their female characters were well written, their male ones were very stereotypical and one-dimensional. Perhaps, it was because the writer’s weren’t men, and don’t know how they think? Perhaps it was because they were just there to be the stereotypical knight in shiny armor, or the love interest or whatever. Perhaps they’ve have a difficult time getting into their male character’s heads. Perhaps those writers have never walked in a man’s shoes.

  • Bam Bunting

    Geena Davis is so underrated it’s ridiculous.

    I hope she ends up playing a Captain Mcawesome character in a sci-fi adaptation one of these days.

  • Anonymous

    So very true, Geena Davis. It can be said not just for tv and movies, but also video games and gaming media as well. Lovely quote.

  • Anonymous

    Perhaps they weren’t that good of a writer or didn’t have much range as a writer? This is not intended as insult. There are plenty of men and women writers that can write men, women, children, aliens, dragons, mystical creatures, interdimensional beings, gods, uplifted animals, genderqueer characters and hetero and non-hetero characters etc etc very well and three-dimensional. If one can write fantastical scenarios and beasts and entities, all the things they are not and/or have not experienced themselves, then surely they can write for a gender or sex they are not in real life. Whether man or woman, people are people. They are diverse and encompass every walk of life and personality. Making good characters vs. making a good male/female character is always the better route worth taking. Less “is this what a woman would do” and more “is this what this character based on history, experience, and personality would do?”


    whenever particular groups complain that they are not being represented enough or accurately enough i’ve always suggested that they stop complaining and produce their own damn TV show or film… but in Davis’ case, however, her Steps 1 and 2 seem quite practical and screenwriters would do well to take up the challenge…

  • Jake Mertz

    Well, I’m not a very experienced writer yet. But, I do know that’s it’s possible to tell very human stories using creatures that aren’t human. It’s actually easier for me to write about, say, a dragon, because no one really knows what dragons are like. And, I have to agree, instead of being concerned with what women would do, I should focus on what the character would do.

    Those female writers, with the one dimensional characters, I will admit, were writing genre fiction, the one referred to as “bodice ripping romance”. I read it, just to see why women would read it. Perhaps the writers who write that aren’t very good, or perhaps they write like they’re expected to write in that particular genre.

  • Thy Miocena

    Actually men could snap their fingers and have it 50 50 if they wanted to. Just like that. Its mens choice that there is desparity.