Emma Watson Interviews Geena Davis to Discuss Feminism, Sexism in Hollywood

Emma Watson, who in recent years has made raising awareness about feminism a priority in her public life, recently interviewed Geena Davis for Interview magazine. Besides being an actress herself, Geena Davis is the founder of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, an organization that collects statistics about gender representation in children’s media.

Davis first spoke about why she decided to found the Institute and how struck she was by the data that started accumulating.

It was more than ten years ago now. My daughter was a toddler. I had no idea there was anything wrong with kids’ media. [laughs] I figured, some of it’s educational, researched … Obviously, we all know the huge problem there is with entertainment in general leaving out women. Especially as actors, we know there are fewer great parts for women. But I started watching little preschool shows with her or G-rated videos or whatever; I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, that there seemed to be far more male characters than female characters in what we make for little kids. It was just a shock.

Though Davis and Watson are a generation apart, Watson’s experiences in the industry mirrored Davis’s – both realized that assumptions about gender inequality began long before adulthood. Watson commented,

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’s response was that people don’t notice it because they’ve grown up seeing unequal representation everywhere they look, a theory with which Watson was quick to agree.

It’s funny when I look at my life; my primary school was two-thirds male to one-third female. [laughs] So I started my life that way. I have two brothers. And when I did Harry Potter, the ratio was more often than not, at the very least, one-third female, two-thirds male. But when I looked at your research and see things like 21 percent of filmmakers are women, only 31 percent of speaking roles in popular films are female—you start seeing it everywhere.

The discussion next turned to how that pattern can start to change and the vital role the Institute on Gender in Media plays in making gender equality a reality. Davis spoke about how life altering representation in media can actually be, especially for children.

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. Our slogan is, “If they see it, they can be it.” So if we show fictional characters doing cool stuff, then girls will want to be it in real life. This is really funny, but we did a study of the occupations of female characters on TV, and there are so many female forensic scientists on TV because of all the CSI shows and Bones and whatever. I don’t have to lobby anybody to add more female forensic scientists as role models. There’s plenty. [laughs] In real life, the people going into that field now are something like two-thirds women.

The two ended the interview with a discussion of the Bentonville Film Festival, also founded by Davis, which will be held in May and celebrates women’s and diverse voices. Davis describes the festival:

The film festival is in a town in Arkansas, a quintessentially American town with a little town square. It’s to champion women and diversity in all media, so TV, movies, eventually, digital, whatever you get into. That’s the goal. We’re using the same philosophy as my institute, which is to make it research-based and really try to work directly with filmmakers and content creators and move the needle. It’s the only film festival in the world where the prizes are guaranteed distribution. It’s unheard of, you know. So if you win one of the categories, your film is going to be in theaters, on TV, digital, and on DVD.

Watson’s response to Davis’s pitch? “I would love to come.”

It’s always illuminating to read a conversation between two women who are working so hard to promote equality – we’ll read an interview with Emma or Geena anytime! Be sure to check out the full interview here.