Film Forward

Geena Davis Has Three Powerful Words For Hollywood If It Doesn't Embrace Diversity

"Wonder Woman" and "Black Panther" are only the beginning.

The ways we watch TV and movies have evolved, and it's time for the talent in front of and behind the camera to do the same. Film Forward speaks on the initiatives to diversify the film industry and the stories it tells. New articles premiere every second Thursday of — and throughout — the month.

Actress and activist Geena Davis is ready for a change in Hollywood. Following the recent success of films starring women and people of color, she knows that the industry has "no excuse" if it doesn't embrace diversity. Not only is it fair to audiences — it's also good for the bottom line.

"When you have movies like Wonder Woman and Black Panther, which are insane blockbusters internationally, if we don't create momentum out of that, shame on us," Davis told IndieWire. "There have been so many successful movies starring women or people of color that unfortunately didn't result in momentum being created."

Indeed, earlier this year, Black Panther not only broke box office records with more than $1 billion globally, but it also made a splash on social media, inspiring more tweets than any other movie in Twitter's history. Before that, Wonder Woman had its own success, becoming the highest-grossing movie in the DC Extended Universe in the U.S.

In 2004, Davis founded the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. She shared the results of a recent study by the organization, which looked at the top 100 films of 2017 and found that films starring a female character made 38 percent more at the box office than their male-centered counterparts. 

"We researched the same thing for diversity and found that films with more diversity in the cast make more money," Davis told IndieWire. "It obviously makes sense, our country is just 51 percent female and 38 percent people of color, so what's the deal?"

Sadly, despite the success of more inclusive films, Hollywood continues to drag its feet when it comes to diversity. Last year, Davis shared the Institute's findings on women in film, showing that the disappointing ratio of female to male characters hadn't changed in decades. 

Davis went on to emphasize that this change doesn't have to be gradual: "You don't have to sneak up on it, you don't have to do it slowly, slowly promote people, you can go straight to task, straight to tremendous diversity in the very next project you make."

The actress also emphasized that onscreen diversity can have a big impact on the real world, pointing out that her Instititute's motto is, "If they see it, they can be it." A recent study, conducted in part by the Institute, showed the "Scully Effect" — women inspired by X-Files character Dana Scully to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

"If we start showing more women [on screen] as politicians and presidents and CEOs and board members and police officers, we'll have a big impact on what happens culturally," Davis said. "That will make a huge, huge change, and then life will imitate art. You don't have to wait for society to turn around and then we'll reflect that. We can actually change what happens in the real world because if people see it, it happens in real life."

Cover image: Andrea Raffin / Shutterstock.com

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