The movie is now a classic. The car was a 1966 Ford Thunderbird, the scenery was the American Southwest. Geena Davis – was she Thelma or Louise? She was Thelma in the now classic movie from 1991 “Thelma and Louise.” This female road buddy movie was a break through when it premiered. Written by a woman and directed by Ridley Scott, the movie won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for Callie Khouri. This movie launched the career of Geena Davis into the stratosphere.
As her career was on the rise, Geena Davis took on another starring role. Participation in this movie would become pivotal. The Academy Award winning actress Geena Davis starred in “A League of Their Own.” The movie premiered in the summer of 1992, directed by Penny Marshall with an almost all female cast that included Davis, Lori Petty, Madonna and Rosie O’Donnell. The movie was based on the true story of an all-women baseball league that was started during World War II. Tom Hanks played their reluctant coach. One of the more famous scenes (and one I quoted often when my son was in Little League), let the women know that, “There’s no crying in baseball!” Davis played the role of the catcher and de facto captain of the team.
When reporters approached Ms. Davis about a “League of their Own” more than 25 years ago, they asked if she thought it was a feminist movie. They thought she would answer no, but she answered “yes!” “Feminist means believing in equal rights and opportunities, and this is about women playing baseball. So it’s about women can play too.” It was a feminist statement through and through.
The movie was pivotal for Ms. Davis on multiple levels. It made her comfortable on being and saying she was a feminist. It alerted her to the lack of role models, acting opportunities and behind the camera breaks for women, and also a lack of female athletes that women and girls could relate to.
Ms. Davis said that she has many girls and women tell her that they took up playing sports because of “A League of their Own.” On a personal level, Ms. Davis had never played sports before, but as she began to train for the movie, was told that she had uptapped athletic ability. It was this role that lit Geena’s Hollywood feminist voice, pushed her to train in archery and found a research institute.
Davis founded The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media in 2004. The lack of girls and women on television programming is incredibly influential on children, acting as a hidden bias. The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media is the only research-based organization working within the media and entertainment industry to engage, educate, and influence content creators and audiences about the importance of eliminating unconditional bias, highlighting gender balance, challenging stereotypes, creating role models and scripting a wide variety of strong female characters in entertainment and media that targets and influences children ages 11 and under.
Her institute continues to push for gender balance and equality in children’s programming. Why does it matter? According to the Institute’s website: Children are engaging with media up to 7 hours a day, and consuming massive amounts of unconscious bias in the programming. Media can greatly influence children’s social and cultural behaviors and beliefs. Negative stereotypes they see in media can create life-long imprints which can affect their attitudes toward male and female roles in our society as well as career occupations and self-esteem. Davis and the institute want to eliminate that hidden bias, and allow boys and girls to see that there is a place for everyone at the table, no matter if that table is science, sports or space exploration.
As far as athletics, Davis shared recently with the Los Angeles Times, “Learning to play a sport really changed my life. I became a trustee of the Women’s Sports Foundation for 10 years, I had a website encouraging girls to know their rights through Title IX, and then eventually I took up archery because of that, and at 41 became a semifinalist at the Olympic trials three years later. So it had a very big and lasting impact on my life.”
Ms. Davis is a busy actress, most recently featured in the TV series, “The Exorcist” and was recently seen on the USA movie, “Marjorie Prime.” She is a wonderful role model to actresses, women and athletes everywhere.