Emma Watson & Geena Davis on women in media: ‘The numbers are horrifying’

Interview Magazine has one of their chatty pieces in which two celebrities interview each other, in this case it’s Emma Watson talking to Geena Davis. I really enjoyed reading their talk, which centered around Geena’s work with her nonprofit organization, The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. Geena’s organization did research and has the statistics to show how underrepresented women and girls are in television and film. We make up over 50% of the population and yet women have just 31% of speaking roles in films. In their talk, Geena discussed how she discovered this issue, by watching children’s television with her then-preschool aged twins (she’s mentioned this before). Emma explained how she came into her own awareness of feminist issues, and how it was a kind of awakening for her. I especially like the way Geena used anecdotes to show how these issues affect her personally, like how she didn’t realize she could speak candidly to a director until she met Susan Sarandon.

Watson on how she came to an awareness of feminist issues
I didn’t realize that I wasn’t moving in a gender-equal world—I had a sense of it, but I didn’t start to really see evidence of it, I think, until I hit puberty. Media even before that age is already creating all these biases.

I agree with you in the sense that I think until you really start looking at it, if you’ve been sold the line that gender equality is something that is solved, and that we now live in an equal world and this has all been tackled, you’re not looking for it in the same way. You’re not really aware, you’re not looking at it consciously. I would say there have been different stages of my feminist awakening. The more layers you peel back and the more things you’re made aware of, you’re like, “Oh my God.”

Davis on taking up the issue of lack of female characters
I just started asking my friends if they had noticed. None of them—feminists, mothers, daughters—noticed until I pointed it out. Then I decided to bring it up within the industry. I knew a lot of people, so I’d say, “Have you ever noticed how few female characters there are in kids movies?” when I met a director, a producer, whatever. And they said, “Oh, but that’s not true anymore.” Then they would name a movie with one female character as the proof that things had changed. [Watson laughs] My point was the world is missing female characters. A lot of times there is one female character, maybe even a cool one, maybe even an important one. But where are all the rest?

Davis on how Hollywood can lead the way for change
First of all, I realized that in all the sectors of society where there’s a huge gender disparity, the one place that can be fixed overnight is onscreen. You think about getting half of Congress, or the presidency … It’s going to take a while no matter how hard we work on it. But half of the board members and half of the CEOs can be women in the next movie somebody makes; it can be absolutely half. The whole point of why I’m doing this is to show all kids, boys and girls, that women take up half the space and do half of the interesting things in the world and have half of the dreams and ambitions.

Davis on how Susan Sarandon opened her eyes
An eye-opening moment in my life, a very defining moment, was the first time I met Susan Sarandon [before shooting Thelma & Louise]. We were going to meet, just Ridley [Scott] and Susan and I, to go through the script and see if we had any thoughts or ideas. I was reading the script, and in the most girly way possible, meaning that if it was a line that could change or something different I’d like to see, I would think about each one and say, “Well, this one can wait till the set because I don’t want to bring up too many things.”

I meet Susan, and she was amazing. We sit down to go through the script. I swear, I think it was page one—she says, “So my first line, I don’t think we need that line. Or we could put it on page two. Cut this …” And I was just like … My jaw was to the ground. Because she was just saying what she thought! [laughs] She was saying her opinion. Even though I was 34 or 35 or something. I was like, “People can do that? Women can actually just say what they think?” It was an extraordinary experience to do that movie with her because every day was a lesson in how to just be yourself.

Davis on how she wants a good part
When I started watching Breaking Bad, I binge-watched it. I thought it was so good that I started to cry. It’s the only time in my life I’ve been completely jealous, the only time. I was like, [imitates crying] “I want to do what Bryan Cranston gets to do. I want a part like that.” [both laugh] Isn’t that pathetic?

[From Daily Mail]

It’s telling that Geena is jealous of Bryan Cranston’s career, because Bryan and Geena are both 60. While things are changing on television hanks to producers like Shonda Rhimes, Mindy Kaling and the cable and internet-based shows, there’s still a lack of female-led TV shows. Plus it seems like all the major movies being made are remakes or sequels and that’s not going to change the gender gap. As Geena said, just because people think this is no longer an issue doesn’t make it the case. Also, I really like how Emma described how she came into a greater awareness of feminist issues. She’s worked hard to learn and educate herself and it shows.

I loved how Geena explained that we can’t change the world overnight, but that it’s quite easy to write and cast more women in films. I left it out of this excerpt as it was running too long and we’ve covered it before, but she also talked about how there are more women in forensic sciences today thanks to the many female medical examiners shown on television.

Geena is next starring on TV show for Fox loosely based on The Exorcist.

Geena Davis during an appearance on ABC's 'Jimmy Kimmel Live!'

'Colonia Dignidad' Berlin Premiere

photos credit: Getty and WENN

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20 Responses to “Emma Watson & Geena Davis on women in media: ‘The numbers are horrifying’”

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  1. LAK says:

    I remember how polarizing THELMA & LOUISE was. On the one hand, everyone was saying it was the beginning of a revolution in terms of more female roles, female-centric stories that weren’t all sparkle and rainbows.

    And on the other, it was seen as male bashing because they’d reversed all the roles in terms of gender such that the men were disposable and or ornamental whilst the women had the meatier roles…pretty much the standard of any film except that it’s the women who are disposable and ornamental.

    • GoodNamesAllTaken says:

      I’ve said this before, but I’ve always thought Thelma and Louise was overrated, both as a film and a groundbreaking moment. You clarified one of the reasons I didn’t like it in your second paragraph. That’s not the answer – to give a film that’s just like any guy film except the roles are reversed. We need interesting stories that feel true about women.

      • LAK says:

        I didn’t understand the male bashing angle.

        It was such a novelty to see the gender reversed casting, which served to highlight how awful female roles are.

        Yet the film would not have suffered had it been cast with male actors in the female roles.

      • noway says:

        I agree with what you are saying. However, one thing has always bugged me is male dominated media projects are allowed to have the terrible, the stupid and the mediocre, but women oriented projects need to be amazing and great. Yes it would be nice since we have such few opportunities to produce the amazing first, but it probably won’t happen as I think they might be trying for amazing and just miss. Can’t wait for a world when we are all allowed to succeed and fail the same way. I am glad some people are acknowledging this topic. As it does seem that people think we have improved, and then we are just done, but there is so much work to be done.

  2. GoodNamesAllTaken says:

    While I think the statistics are telling and important, I also think you have to put it in perspective. Most films, I’d say 80%, suck. There just aren’t that many good films telling interesting stories about anyone, male or female. I would love to see more female lead characters, and I must watch mainly those, because I don’t “feel” the discrepancy that much in films I watch. I don’t watch action films, cartoon based films or horror films, but lots of Jane Austen and that type of film where the main characters are women. I’m not being dismissive of the importance of women in film, but I think the main problem is that Hollywood has no imagination and just keeps remaking the same old shize and people keep going to see it.

  3. Lucy2 says:

    I’m so glad that Geena started her organization and is really pushing for true equality on screen. It can definitely have an impact on society.
    And kudos to Emma too, for being willing to speak out and for acknowledging that she doesn’t know it all right away. Continuing to learn is so important.

  4. Jess says:

    Love them both. And I agree with geena – I hate it when my kids watch their shows and theirs just one cool girl. Why can’t half the actors be girls?

    • GoodNamesAllTaken says:

      It’s sad, because I’m 59 and I remember as a little girl during the boys are disgusting phase wondering why there weren’t any shows where the girls DID anything. They might be on the show but they just walked in the room occasionally, not like boys who did things. I’m surprised it hasn’t changed much. So stupid.

  5. Jess says:

    I love how she describes Susan Sarandon in that first meeting, makes me love the two of them even more!

  6. perplexed says:

    Geena Davis is 60?!

    • nonni says:

      She used to lie about her age (like many actresses did before the those people-searching sites could out them) that’s why it comes as a surprise now.

  7. Betsy says:

    They’re right.

    I don’t watch TV with my sons, but then older one gets occasional movies, usually Disney and Pixar and I ask him where the girls are and why aren’t there any more girls?

    And I especially notice it in books! Not only the general lack of representation, but I purposely read the phrase “boys and girls” as “girls and boys.” Why do boys always come first?

    • This Face Believes You says:

      Alphabetically…? I don’t know why, but you shouldn’t simply assume is a subconscious belief in male superiority.

      • Betsy says:

        Do you have kids? Do you ready a lot of children’s books? If you do, you might have noticed that not only are the boys always mentioned first, but boys are also about 90% of the characters, even when it’s just an animal. It’s nuts.

  8. Mia4s says:

    I love action/adventure, scifi and looking back it’s awful to realize how much media I loved that had little-to-no good female representation. Now luckily I was raised with feminist ideals (thank you Mom and Dad!) so I always demanded my turn as Indiana Jones or with a light sabre when playing. I imagine too many girls never did.

    One of the few things I’m grateful to the Internet for is to know a bit more about a movie in advance. One female playing the “generic wife/girlfriend/mother”? No money from me. Unless you’re doing a true story/true events (I make allowances for some WWII movies as an example) that is totally unacceptable.

  9. Chaucer says:

    They are both great and I love them. I have a massive lady boner for Emma. Glad they are speaking up and hope they continue to do so!

  10. Starkiller says:

    I can’t warm to Emma Watson. She comes across as so disingenuous.

  11. danielle says:

    Love them both!

  12. Casey says:

    I’ve always been a huge fan of A League of Their Own (I know) and now I like Geena Davis even more. What a babe. And don’t even get me started on Susan Sarandon!!