Geena Davis – #WomenWhoLead: Powerful Women Changing the World

This is part of the #WomenWhoLead campaign! During Women’s History Month is featuring powerful women who are making a difference in their fields, inspiring the next generation, and changing the world for the better. These fierce feminist icons advocate for gender equality, challenge sexism, fight the patriarchy, and empower women everywhere to live their dreams.

Who is Geena Davis?

You know Academy Award winner Geena Davis from lots of movies like A League of Their Own and Stewart Little, and most famously her role as Thelma in the brilliant 1991 film Thelma and Louise. That movie, written by Callie Khouri in which Davis starred alongside Susan Sarandon, tells a compelling story of female friendship that shows women occupying spaces and portraying character traits that were traditionally reserved for men. It did something on screen that was new and different: it showed women in leading roles, representing themselves and telling their own stories.

Thelma and Louise
Actresses Susan Sarandon (left) and Geena Davis star in the film ‘Thelma And Louise’, 1991. (Photo by MGM Studios/Getty Images)

What does she do?

Through her work in film, Davis noticed a problem. Women were hardly ever given leading roles. They were expected to play the wives or girlfriends of the leading men, but they were rarely given the opportunity to lead themselves. She faced this discrimination in her own career and was frustrated by the limited opportunities presented to her.

Davis wanted to figure out how to fix this, so in response, she founded the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. The institute focuses is working toward eliminating unconscious gender bias, challenging stereotypes, and creating media that features diverse, strong female characters primarily in the media produced for children.

The institute does comprehensive research on the portrayal of women in the media and in the decade or so since its launch has extended to look at the representation of people of color, people with disabilities and LGBTQ folks as well. Their 2019 report presents statistics like how male leads outnumber female leads two-to-one and that fewer than 1% of family films feature a lead with a disability, a statistic that has not improved in the past decade.

“If she can see it, she can be it”

The work that Geena Davis has done, both through her institute and through her acting, has inspired a whole new generation of young women working in film. Women like Nina Jacobson (producer of The Hunger Games and Crazy Rich Asians) and Emma Watson (Harry Potter, Perks of Being a Wallflower) say they have Geena Davis to thank for the way they have focused their careers on telling the stories strong women.

In September of 2018, Davis released a new project, the documentary This Changes Everything, which is about the portrayal of women in media. The documentary features women like Meryl Streep, Reese Witherspoon, and Taraji P. Henson talking about their experiences in the industry. It is an in depth and personal look at the gender disparity in Hollywood.

Geena Davis has dedicated her life to giving women in the media the opportunities they deserve. Because of her work there are more female characters for little girls to look up to and more women empowered to be whoever they want to be.

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