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Geena Davis Hopes 2017 Brings Greater Gender Equality In All Media

The air was crisp and wintery in mid-December, its cool breeze adding to the jubilant mood as production professionals walked through the grounds at the William Turner Gallery at Bergamot Station. The holiday party this diverse group of professionals, from writers to producers, actors to agents, was attending at the art complex went beyond the typical networking mixer.  It was a special fundraising event for the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, held to support the continued research and activities the non-profit is engaged in.  In between the cocktail hour and a live music performance, Golden Globe and Oscar winning actress Geena Davis addressed the crowd with her hopes for 2017.

“The entertainment industry is the one sector in society with a big imbalance that really can be changed overnight,” said Davis. “When you go back to your studio or the project you are working on, change some male names to female names.  Make sure half a crowd scene is composed of women.  Make the doctor or the lawyer (in your project) a woman.”

Although she played strong, iconic female characters in films including “Thelma and Louise”, the concept to study the portrayal, or lack thereof, of women in entertainment arose after Davis became a mother. Watching children’s programming with her young daughter, she began to notice how seldom females were utilized, both in live action and animation.   Women and girls make up roughly 51% of the population, but are profoundly not equally represented in television and film.  Believing the omissions of females in the content children consume was as damaging as negative stereotypes, Davis founded her institution in late 2004.

Developed to both research gender representation and advocate for equal representation of women in media, the institute remains the only research-based organization working within the media and entertainment industry to engage, educate and influence content creators and audiences about the importance of highlighting gender balance in entertainment targeting children eleven and under.

For ten years, the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media (www.seejane.org) has been the pioneer and leading non-profit organization using research to dramatically change the gender inequity in children’s entertainment.

With the generous support of Google.org the Institute developed and launched a groundbreaking research software to vastly improve the quantity and quality and depth of research. The Geena Davis Inclusion Quotient (GD-IQ) uses machine-learning technology and audio-visual processing technologies to automate media measurement and analyze massive amounts of media content in real time. It can calculate content detail with a level of accuracy that eludes human capabilities.

The tool allows the Institute to analyze screen and speaking time by gender and revealed a new dimension of unconscious gender bias in film. In an analysis of the top 100 films in the United States in 2015, male led films received three times more screen and speaking time over female co-leads. However, as we examined the financial implications, in 2015, the highest grossing films were led by female characters and achieved nearly 16% more at the box office. The Hollywood myth that female led films don’t make money is absolutely obsolete.

The GD-IQ significantly advances the Institute’s work to dramatically improve gender portrayals, media messaging and reduce stereotyping by creating diverse female characters in entertainment and media. Findings and Data Visualization are available here: https://seejane.org/research-informs-empowers/data/

The institute continues to create new avenues to share its findings and promote its message. In 2015, the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media partnered with Arclight Cinemas to present the first annual Women in Entertainment Summit.  The second annual Women in Entertainment Summit occurred in November, 2016 and featured panels highlighting executives, casting directors and producers that have found ways to help inspire gender equality through all media platforms.  In 2016 the institute partnered with YouTube to encourage more female-created content on the streaming video site.

As 2017 kicks into gear, Davis will continue to work with  producers, directors and studios executives directly to discuss the issues and advocate for fair and balanced representation of women in all forms of media, including children’s programming. The sentiment of expanding the presence of female characters beyond the princess or the best friends lies in the institute’s catch phrase:  “If she can see it, she can be it.”

Before concluding her address to the enthusiastic members of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media’s December fundraiser, Davis reminded the crowd that there was no major change needed to their content, just a fair presence of women both with and without speaking roles.

“Make what you want to make, there’s no need to add a message,” said Davis. “I just ask that before you shoot it, go through the script and create balance. “

To learn more about the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, please visit: https://seejane.org