Geena Davis Pushes Gender Equality at CSUN Show

After breezy anecdotes on her acting career, Davis details inequalities in roles for girls and women in TV and film; also laments lack of women in power positions.

More than a lecture but less than a one-woman show, Geena Davis reminisced about career highlights and pushed for gender equality Thursday night at CSUN's Valley Performing Arts Center.

The 56-year-old acting student-turned model-turned actor won over a sparse audience with a friendly style and self-deprecating anecdotes sprinkled with humor.

Here's how to be a movie star, she said: "First get big parts in major motion pictures. That's basically it." OK, she was just warming up.

Davis described her metamorphosis from being a tall, gangly girl ("My fondest dream was to take up less space in this world.") to becoming a confident athlete with Olympic aspirations in the archery event. She discovered her athletic prowess at age 36, while preparing for , a film about a women's baseball team. Five years later, she took up archery, honing her skills for four hours a day.

Davis told how being persistent led to being cast to co-star in Thelma and Louise (1991) after the film already had been cast twice. She won an Oscar nomination for her performance as Thelma, though she originally envisioned herself playing Louise.

These stories, told in rough chronological order and mostly for laughs, were mainly a warm-up for the topic that Davis was truly passionate about--the dearth of women in power positions and the lack of female roles and role models in children's programming.

Only 16 percent of those in Congress are women, she said. And females constitute only one in three characters on kids' shows.

These aren't guesses, Davis stressed. Her own nonprofit, the Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media, conducts studies of movies and TV programs to gather precise data. Armed with these stats, Davis calls on studios, networks and guilds to end the message that "women and girls are less important than men and boys."

Though the ratio of male to female characters has stayed the same since 1946, she said, she believes her efforts will help bring about measurable change in the next few years.

After spending 35 minutes on her past and her passion, Davis stepped from behind the podium and moved to an easy chair opposite Robert Bucker, dean of CSUN's Mike Curb College of Media, Arts and Communication. Then, for a half hour, Bucker weeded through questions submitted by audience members in advance of the program.

Where does she keep her Oscar (for supporting actress in Accidental Tourist)? On her mantle. What role does she wish she had played? The title role in Erin Brockovich. Who is her favorite artist? Sydney Pollack, the director of Tootsie, her first film.

There were no questions about her difficulty scoring a hit on TV despite appearing in several acclaimed series, all short-lived.

Davis said ABC doomed Commander in Chief, for which she won a Golden Globe and an Emmy nomination, by removing the show from the schedule to protect it from head-on competition from American Idol. By the time it came back, she said, many viewers lost interest.  Not mentioned were her starring roles in Sara (which ran for 13 episodes) and the quickly-canceled The Geena Davis Show.

Admirers of Davis were no doubt pleased to hear firsthand from this personification of beauty and brains. Still, there was an unshakable feeling that this program owed its existence more to the power of Davis' celebrity than to her skills as an entertainer and performer, talents not greatly in evidence on this night.


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