Be­yond her act­ing roles the ac­tress has be­come a real fem­i­nist force off-cam­era as well

The Hamilton Spectator - - GO - MARK OLSEN

It’s been 25 years since Geena Davis starred in “A League of Their Own,” a film that broke ground not only for its strong, mostly fe­male cast but be­cause it was a ma­jor film di­rected by a woman, Penny Mar­shall.

Re­leased July 1, 1992, the film was based on the true story of an all-women baseball league started dur­ing the Sec­ond World War and went on to be­come a beloved, and still all too rare, fe­male-cen­tered sports film. Com­ing out just a year af­ter she and Susan Saran­don made movie his­tory by driv­ing their 1966 Ford Thun­der­bird into the Grand Canyon, “League” helped seal Davis’ place in Hol­ly­wood as a fem­i­nist voice.

Davis, who won an Oscar in 1989 for “The Ac­ci­den­tal Tourist,” was nom­i­nated for a Golden Globe for her role in “League,” which also starred Tom Hanks, Lori Petty, Rosie O’Don­nell, Jon Lovitz and Madonna.

Af­ter win­ning a Golden Globe in 2006 for the TV se­ries “Com­man­der in Chief ” — play­ing a fe­male U.S. pres­i­dent — she has con­tin­ued to move be­tween tele­vi­sion and movies.

In Jan­uary, she was at Sun­dance with the film “Mar­jorie Prime” and has in the last few years ap­peared on TV’s “The Ex­or­cist” and “Grey’s Anatomy.”

Be­yond her act­ing roles, how­ever, she has be­come a real force off-cam­era.

She founded the Geena Davis In­sti­tute on Gen­der in Me­dia, which con­ducts re­search to cre­ate sta­tis­tics around gen­der and di­ver­sity rep­re­sen­ta­tion in en­ter­tain­ment. And she co­founded the Ben­tonville Film Fes­ti­val in Ben­tonville, Ark., ded­i­cated to sup­port­ing women and di­ver­sity in the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try. At this year’s fes­ti­val, she par­tic­i­pated in a cel­e­bra­tory baseball game to mark the an­niver­sary of “A League of Their Own,” which was re­cently re­leased in a new Blu-ray edi­tion.

In this in­ter­view, Davis talks about “A League of Their Own” and how she’s still hav­ing many of the same con­ver­sa­tions about women in Hol­ly­wood that she did when the film was first re­leased.

Q: If “A League of Their Own” were com­ing out today, the fact that it’s a lit­tle-known story of women’s his­tory with a mostly fe­male cast and a fe­male di­rec­tor would be much talked about. How did peo­ple re­spond to the movie at the time?

A: Re­porters came to the set to in­ter­view us, and I no­ticed im­me­di­ately that they all asked at some point, “Do you think this is a fem­i­nist movie?” Sort of con­spir­a­to­rial, like, “I’m not re­ally say­ing this out loud” sort of a thing and like, “Wouldn’t it be weird if you ac­tu­ally said yes?”

And I would say yes. And they would say, “What, you do? Can I say that you said that?” And I was like, yes, you can. I mean, what’s your def­i­ni­tion of fem­i­nist? Fem­i­nist means be­liev­ing in equal rights and op­por­tu­ni­ties, and this is about women play­ing baseball. So it’s about women can play too.

But they were hor­ri­fied; it was like I had said some­thing hor­ri­fy­ing and they gen­er­ously wanted to be sure I wanted to al­low them to print that I had said that. Q: Are things much bet­ter now? A: No, al­though I don’t think they’d whis­per the ques­tion. But as far as the per­cep­tion of it when it came out, I no­ticed there was so much prog­nos­ti­cat­ing that this would change ev­ery­thing.

Now that there’s been a tremen­dous hit, a very suc­cess­ful movie star­ring women, there were go­ing to be so many fe­male sports movies. And I par­tic­u­larly no­ticed that be­cause when I had done “Thelma and Louise,” which came out a year ear­lier, it was the same thing, the press was say­ing, this changes ev­ery­thing. There are go­ing to be so many fe­male road pic­tures, fe­male buddy pic­tures, just more movies star­ring women be­cause it struck such a nerve.

And nei­ther pre­dic­tion proved to be true what­so­ever. Q: Was the movie piv­otal for you per­son­ally? A: It was huge. It was very piv­otal to my life in mul­ti­ple ways. One was ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the re­ac­tion of young girls to the movie and so many girls and young women say­ing, “I took up sports be­cause of that movie.” I still have the same num­ber of girls and women telling me they play sports be­cause of that movie now as I did then. It’s like a rite of pas­sage to see this movie. It’s got re­mark­able longevity.

Also, just on a per­sonal level, I had never re­ally played any sports, and I def­i­nitely couldn’t play baseball when I got cast. And so I trained re­ally hard, and it was the first time that I was told that I had un­tapped ath­letic abil­ity, which was an in­cred­i­ble com­pli­ment in my book, and so I felt like I re­ally did, and it changed ev­ery­thing about my self-es­teem and my self-con­fi­dence. I’d al­ways been a lit­tle self-con­scious about my height. It was hard when I was in high school and ev­ery­thing, and I def­i­nitely felt I should be tak­ing up less space in the world.

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.

Q: Does the con­ver­sa­tion around women in me­dia feel dif­fer­ent now? Does hav­ing ac­tual num­bers through the work of the in­sti­tute help move the con­ver­sa­tion?

A: That’s an ex­cel­lent thought, be­cause there is def­i­nitely far more talk about it now than back then. I even felt some com­punc­tion to not com­plain about not hav­ing enough parts, say­ing, “Oh, I’m just tak­ing a va­ca­tion or a break,” or “I’m just re­ally fussy.” Which I am, but don’t ever ad­mit that there aren’t enough parts or you might seem un­pop­u­lar. But now, as we see, so many of my peers and my­self are talk­ing about it and bring­ing it up, say­ing, “Hey, I’m not get­ting paid equally,” “Hey, there’s not enough parts” (rather) than, “I was turned down be­cause I was too old at 36.” And def­i­nitely that has changed, though whether that will cre­ate more change we have yet to see.

So num­bers, two things: One is, chil­dren’s en­ter­tain­ment me­dia, I fig­ured out a way to ad­dress it, to at­tack the prob­lem that is tremen­dously ef­fec­tive, which is get­ting the num­bers. It’s made all the dif­fer­ence. Peo­ple didn’t know, the peo­ple mak­ing kid’s en­ter­tain­ment, they had no idea they were leav­ing out that many fe­male char­ac­ters in the world that was be­ing cre­ated. So the num­bers have made all the dif­fer­ence, and we’ve seen lots of ev­i­dence that merely learn­ing the num­bers is work­ing be­cause peo­ple mak­ing kids’ en­ter­tain­ment ac­tu­ally care about kids.

How­ever, for be­hind the cam­era, the num­bers and the data have done ab­so­lutely noth­ing. The per­cent­age of fe­male di­rec­tors has been known for decades.

There is no­body who would say, “I’m shocked to find out how few fe­male di­rec­tors there are.” So that has no im­pact, know­ing the num­bers, and to gen­er­al­ize com­pletely I would say that on­screen lack of women is un­con­scious bias, and from the ev­i­dence one would have to as­sume that be­hind the cam­era is con­scious bias. So num­bers are not go­ing to change that and what I think will, is peo­ple do­ing like Ryan Murphy is do­ing and say­ing, “I’m just go­ing to (hire) half (women) and mak­ing it hap­pen. I just am, I’m not go­ing to com­plain that there’s not enough, I’m go­ing to find them and hire them.”

Q: In “A League of Their Own,” did you re­ally catch that pop-up fly ball be­hind your back?

A: I did. I fig­ured out if you let the ball come right at your head, line your­self up so the ball is com­ing straight at your head and then duck your head for­ward as it comes, it will go right down your back. It turned out to be re­ally easy, ac­tu­ally, once I fig­ured out the physics of it.


Geena Davis in "A League of Their Own."


A scene from the movie "A League of Their Own" as man­ager Jimmy Du­gan (Tom Hanks) ad­mon­ishes Eve­lyn Gard­ner (Bitty Schram) with the mem­o­rable line "there’s no cry­ing in baseball."

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