Does It Change Everything? New Geena Davis Doc on Hollywood Tries To Change Inequities
In the opening moments of the documentary, “This Changes Everything,” actress and executive producer of the movie, Geena Davis cracks a joke that is the heart of the film.
Referring to the children’s books of “See Dick, See Jane,” Davis says,” I felt like we see Dick all the time. I want to see more Jane.”
As founder of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media, Davis calls her company, See Jane. Org. Davis says she was approached by director Tom Donahue to get involved as a sponsor in the film he had already been working on for two years and wanted her to be interviewed in the film.
And yes, the director of a documentary about the lack of female directors and overall sexism and under-representation of women in Hollywood, is a man. It’s the first question Donahue addresses in a brief video panel after the airing of the film, set to open in theaters is August across the country.
“This film was developed by my company,” Donahue says, “and we felt invested in this injustice.”
Apparently a lot of female Hollywood star power feels the same as the documentary features interviews with Shonda Rhimes, Reese Witherspoon, Meryl Streep, Natalie Portman, Tiffany Haddish, Chloe Grace Moretz, Yara Shaidi, Taraji P. Henson, Jessica Chastain Cate Blanchett, Lena Dunham, Rosario Dawson, Sandra Oh, Zoe Saldana, Rose McGowan, Marissa Tomei, Sharon Stone, Rashida Jones, Gillian Anderson, Tracee Ellis Ross, Jill Soloway, Mellody Hobson, Callie Khouri and more.
Khouri, who wrote and won the Oscar for the 1992 film “Thelma and Louise,” starring Davis in that breakthrough role, says the “misogyny is unremarkable” in its prevalence in Hollywood. And that needs to change.
A study of the Davis Institute from 2007 to 2017 shows that male leads vastly outnumber female leads—71.3% compared to 28.8%. This means that men’s stories were featured twice as often as women’s stories.
Female leads are the least represented in the action (9.4%), adventure (23.6%), and comedy (28.7%) genres. However, women are equitably represented in horror (55.9%) and romance (46.3%) films.
“White straight men have had their hands on this narrative,” says Soloway, creator of “Transparent,” and “Six Feet Under.”
The overwhelming preponderance of male actors, male-created Tv and film, and the lack of visuals and storylines around women and their stories has an impact on girls and women, Davis says. Representation matters.
According to a 2017 Geena Davis Institute study, in family films, male characters outnumber female characters two-to-one when it comes to leads (59.0% compared to 26.0%). Screen time for men is 60.9% compared to 39.1% for women, and speaking time is 63.7% for men, compared to 36.3% for females.
As an actress, Portman says, “I felt at a very young age you are being turned into an object.”
Henson adds, that while she was only offered what she calls “ghetto roles” as a Black actress, “I saw a bigger picture for myself.”
Sandra Oh says that when she saw “The Joy Luck Club,” “that was the first time I saw myself on screen.”
While the lack of female characters and stories is undeniable, the positive effect of having strong female characters is known as the CSI effect, says Marg Helgenberger, who starred in the CSI Tv series as a forensic scientist. There was a sharp increase in women studying STEM after that show’s run.
This is also called “The Scully Effect,” as a 2018 Davis Institute study “looked at the influence of The X-Files’ protagonist Dana Scully on girls and women entering the STEM field. Nearly two-thirds of women working in STEM today say that Scully served as their personal role model and increased their confidence to excel in a male-dominated profession. In other words, as we say, “If she can see it, she can be it.”
Many in the film addressed sexism, harassment, sexual advances and unfairness, including McGowan and Sharon Stone.
Directors and others on the set were always asking her to sit on their laps, Stone says. I asked, “Does Tom Hanks sit on your lap?”
According to University of Southern California data, in 2018, 92 percent of the directors of the top 250 movies were men. The paucity of female directors has been the same for decades, but it is a surprising turn from the silent era of films at the turn of the 20th century when women filmmakers were common.
Determined to gather information and to count the roles of women on screen and off, Davis says people assume it is better than it is until you show hard proof.
The Institute reports on its website, “Only 7% of directors, 13% of writers, and 20% of producers are female. With such a dearth of female representation in front of and behind the camera, it’s a struggle to champion female stories and voices. The Institute’s research proves that female involvement in the creative process is imperative for creating greater gender balance before production even begins.”
“Data is the magic bullet,” says Davis. “Being passive is not good enough any more,” she says. The ratio of male and female roles for men and women is the same since 1946. “You have to be proactive, this is not happening naturally on its own.”
Rachel Feldman, a director who participated in Take The Lead’s 50 Women Can Change The World in Media and Entertainment, is also featured in the documentary, and says she worked in the 1980s to create a list of women directors, ten of who comprised 15.6 percent of the Directors Guild of America.
Studying the data, Feldman and others found that half of 1 percent of all directing jobs went to women. In 1983 the DGA sued the studios for discrimination and the case was later dismissed.
Filmmaker Maria Geise saw her own directing career stall for no reason other than discrimination, and sought help from the ACLU in 2013. They investigated and have since turned over their findings to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, that has an ongoing investigation “of purposeful discrimination.”
Tarana Burke, the founder of the #MeToo movement, comments on screen, “Sexual harassment is only one symptom of discrimination.”
While shifts are happening extremely slowly, Davis says awareness and intentional moves to have parity on the set and on the screen will make a difference in how women and girls see themselves and their place in the world.