Film Forward

Years After 'Thelma & Louise,' Geena Davis Still Wants To See Better Roles For Women

"We never seem to get any momentum going."

It's been more than 26 years since Thelma & Louise hit theaters, and we're still talking about the film and its place in feminist history. For star Geena Davis, however, the classic road trip movie didn't mark the shift in onscreen representation that many may have hoped — and she has the research to back it up.


"It hasn't changed at all," Davis recently told the Associated Press about how women's standing in Hollywood compares to 1991. "We never seem to get any momentum going."

Davis is the founder of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, a research-based nonprofit focused on female representation in children's media. The actress cited the organization's findings to show how stagnant things have been for women over the decades. "Our research shows the ratio of male to female characters in film has not changed since 1946," the actress told AP.

Davis also warns people not to assume the work is done just because recent years have seen some strong female protagonists at the movies. "Look, there was Hunger Games, there was Frozen, even Star Wars with a female lead ... and now Wonder Woman. You figure, 'We're done!'" Davis said. "But we have to wait for the data. It's been a quarter-century since Thelma & Louise and nothing's changed. I know it WILL change, but to say this is the exact moment — well, you'll have to prove it to me."

The actress's Institute is one of the forces that's making that change possible, by pointing out the problems and encouraging the industry to address them. AP cites an unreleased report from the organization which found that, in the 50 top-grossing family films of 2016, male characters outnumbered females 2 to 1, and also had twice the screen time and speaking time. And things aren't any better behind the camera, with one USC study finding that there were only five female directors at the helm of the top 100 films last year.

Thelma & Louise screenwriter Callie Khouri, who won an Oscar for her script, agreed that things haven't changed since the film's release, explaining how it took her 10 years of trying before she directed her first film, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, in 2002 — a familiar story for too many female filmmakers. However, she shared one positive development with AP: "Honestly, here we are, 26 years later, talking about this movie. So, I win."

Meanwhile, the Geena Davis Institute is doing more than just the research — it's also inspiring change in how networks and studios represent women on screen. According to the organization's website, 68 percent of entertainment executives familiar with the research changed two or more of their projects, while 41 percent changed four or more. Those changes included an increase in female characters, as well as a difference in choice of occupation, dialogue, and development.

As others in the industry lend their voices to the issue, hopefully, the data will start looking even better — and soon.

The ways we watch TV and movies have evolved, and it's time for the talent in front of and behind the camera to do the same. Film Forward speaks on the initiatives to diversify the film industry and the stories it tells. New articles premiere every second Thursday of — and throughout — the month.


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