Read | 12. Oct 2022

Standing Tall

We will always remember her for the world´s first influencial selfie. The poster of the movie "Thelma And Louise" cemented that Nineties´s feminist approach to a whole new generation of girls and women and also worked as an image making tool for actress Geena Davies.

Even though she got her Oscar for "The Accidental Tourist" and became my favorite when she married Jeff Goldblum (they met while starring in "The Fly"), it is "Thelma & Louise" we all carry in our hearts since we first saw it (hint: Watch it or watch it again - it still works perfectly! Not to mention the invention of a young actor named Brad Pitt).

Davis became Thelma after director Ridley Scott cast Susan Sarandon as Louise. From the very first day of pre-production, Sarandon proposed revisions to the script—including a new scene—and advocated for herself. “How had I never been exposed to a woman like this?,” Davis writes in her memoir, Dying of Politeness, which will be published next week.

During the early 1990s, Davis starred in Thelma & Louise and A League of Their Own back-to-back. The reaction to those films was so “surprising and significant,” she said, that it highlighted just how few movies were made by women, for women.

After those experiences, she “wanted to play characters who are in charge of their own fate, who make important decisions for themselves and don’t turn their life over to somebody else.” But behind the scenes, she struggled to advocate for herself, a dissonance she chronicles in Dying of Politeness.

I personally met Geena Davies in 2013 when she spoke to a "Women´s Conference" in Bern lead by then American Ambassador Donald Beyer´s wife Megan Caroll Beyer.

Davis had realized that the gender bias in Hollywood was unconscious. And wanted to change something about it.

When her daughter, now 20, was in pre-school, she noticed that the male characters on children’s shows consistently had more screen time or more interesting story lines than the female characters, she said. In meetings, at lunches, and during events, she mentioned this to her Hollywood colleagues. “Every single person said that it wasn’t true,” she recalled. “I’m talking about dozens and dozens of people that I asked.”

Because numbers had historically made more of an impact than anecdotal evidence in Hollywood, where executives “think that there’s more progress than there has been,” she commissioned a series of studies and presented the findings privately—“in a very friendly way”—to the studio executives and creators responsible for churning out kids’ television.

Three years ago, the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media found that there were equal numbers of male and female leads in children’s television. In 2020, they found that the same had happened with the characters in family films.

Though hyper-sexualization is still an issue, Davis said, “no agent is ever going to let their female client take an audition in a hotel room again.” And female actors now feel empowered to speak up if a male co-star is making five times as much. Back when she made Thelma & Louise, she said, “we felt like your reputation had to be spotless as far as causing no problems,” at the risk of being replaced. “But it’s not like that anymore. It really isn’t.”

"Dying Of Politeness" by Geena Davis, will be published on October 11 by HarperOne