tv Talk to Al Jazeera Al Jazeera January 16, 2015 5:30pm-6:01pm EST
obama and british prime minister david cameron say why governments need to follow what is happening opposite social media. we have those stories and much more tonight at 6:00. >> i think it's incredibly important not to sexualize the female characters in entertainments that are made for very little kids. there is not good reason why you will. >> the actor found the institute that represents female representation on screen. >> unless a character is having sex with somebody else in the movie, most times it doesn't matter what gender they are.
>> davis' non-profit organization has the largest body of data on the subject, and she's using research, education and advocacy to reduce stereotyping in media that targets children. >> we have to get over this idea that women need to be sexy. >> davis also talks about her iconic role as one of two women on the run after the murder of a man who tried to rape her. the film, of course, " thelma and louise." >> when we were shooting the scene with brad and i, there is a shot of him standing up without his shirt on and he had that incredible stomach. and he was personally spraying evian on his body. >> and the actor who broke ground as commander in chief on television talks about what is next. >> after the president, where do you go from there? >> geena davis is an official partner of u.n. women. i spoke to her when she was in
new york working on empowering women around the world. >> you have an entire institute in your name that studies gender roles in media. what led you to this? >> well, the final impetus was my daughter. when she was a toddler i started watching preschool shows and kids movies with her. think because of some of the roles that i played that spoke to women a little bit i had a heightened awareness of how women are portrayed in the media, so i immediately noticed that there seemed to be far fewer female characters than male characters that was made for kids. i couldn't believe it in the 21st therapy i thought we should be showing kids boys and girls sharing the sandbox equally.
i didn't intend to create an institute around t but i found that nobody else seems to be noticing, none of my friends seemed to be noticing how few female characters until i pointed it out. in the industry, if i had meetings with the studio executives or something like that, i would ask have you ever noticed how few female characters there are in media made for kids? to a person they said, oh, no, no, no that's been fixed. then they would name a movie with usually with one female character in it as proof that gender inequality had been fixed. so it seemed to me that nobody much was picking up on what i thought i was picking up. i didn't run into anybody who said i know, i know, i noticed. >> your institute set out to quantify and gather the data and was recently commissioned with the u.n. to do the first
global study on gender roles in popular films in other countries. >> right. >> what were the major findings from this study? >> well, unfortunately the global perspective is not much different than what it is in the united states. we're not doing a good job at all here in the states. there is far more male characters than female characters. the female characters very often don't have jobs or don't have much to do in the plot very often either the girlfriend of the star or serving the function of eye candy. >> merely there for decoration. >> merely there for decoration yes, that's right. so the picture is not great in the united states and the whole purpose of doing this study is partly because everybody was saying, well, is it the same way around the world? partly because we just wanted to
know is anybody doing this better? we found that that's not really the case. >> is it because hollywood has the impact on movie industries in other countries? >> it could be. we were looking--in the global study we were looking at productions that were exclusively made in that territory. in other words, not what they're watching because 80% of the media consumed globally is made in the united states. but what that particular territory was making themselves. and it could very well be. when you consider the amount of media made in the states that's consumed around the world it could very well be that their own media is impacted by the kinds of media that they see. but there is less hyper sexuality in many of the countries. >> you did look at what type of work, for example, women did.
you seem very passionate about seeing women in roles where they're doing the science, the technology, the engineering and the math. it was quite startling according to this research, what you found. >> yes, it's pretty much like in the united states, very few women or female characters are seen in answer of those positions. that's one of the main areas that we want to get more women and girls interested in. we need many more people to pursue those kinds of occupations, but people aren't seeing that to model themselves after. there aren't many real-life role models in those fields, and they're not seeing them on television. >> talk about the hyper sexuality that you were observing. how far important was it to you to see how thin the women were or how much clothing they were
wearing? >> i think it's incredibly important not to sexualize the female characters in entertainment for little kids there really is not a good reason that you would. one disturbing thing that we found in the united states research in g-rated animated movies female characters wear the same amount of sexually-related clothing as in r-rated movies. >> in g-rated movies? >> yes. when you're doing research, this has a specific meaning, it's revealing something, and it's pervasive. so we wanted to look at that globally as well. and it turned out that female characters were twice as likely to be shown in sexual situations and sexually revealing clothing as male characters. >> who is to blame? >> i don't think it's
necessarily that we need to assign blame. i think there is a lot of unconscience bias. i think a lot of this is not consciously known, but because like in the industry here in the states we haven't uncovered any plot against women in hollywood. >> there is no conspires. hollywood directors, movie studios putting women in hyper sexualized roles. >> or leaving them out. they sincerely didn't know they were missing. this is a very tiny example but from a movie that i was. in "stuart little" there is a scene with remote control boats. i was watching one day, and the assistant director was taking little boys from the crowd of extras and giving them the remote and having them sit down. then he gave them to little boys to sit down and then picked
little girls to stand behind the boys cheering them on. i noticed what he was doing. i said, hey, do you think we could give half of the row notes to girls instead? he was like, yes. yes. he was so upset that he hadn't thought of it. it seems so obvious. but that's what happening. people don't think about it. we bring it to their attention so the next time--the next time that person shoots a scene he's going to think, oh, right, i should make sure that i'm not putting all men. >> fair enough when it comes to just the shear number boys roles to girl roles but when it comes to topic of films in hollywood and television who bears responsibility for those portrayals? >> well, i think again it's partly influenced by tradition
that female characters have been seen for decades now as decorative, that they need to be attractive, they need to be sexy. i think people have come to believe that for a female character to be appealing she needs to be thin and beautiful and sexy. so it's something that is sort of an enculturation that we have to get over that women, female characters need to be sexy. i can't tell you how many scenes i've seen where in movies where there is a bunch of young, smart computer geniuses, and let's get them all together, and these incredibly nerdy guys, and a super hot blond gorgeous woman but first of all, why respect half of them female, and why
aren't half of the women looking nerdy, strange, in all different kinds of ways. it's so narrow what writers think that they can create as far as women that there ends up not being more of them. there is fear about making female characters have flaws or seem unattractive. >> you have a two-step remedy, i understand, to adding female characters. talk about them. one just changing the names in the scripts to female names. >> right, that's my big pitch when i go to studios. i'm not asking you to make more movies starring a female character. just put that aside for new. if you do, that's great. cast me. but in the movies you're already going to make, just before you cast it, just stop and say, who can become female? so that you can very easily increase the population of family characters by crossing
out a few of the first names and putting in a female name instead. unless a character is having sex with somebody else in the movie, most times it doesn't matter what gender they are, and people aren't thinking, hey, why don't i make the general a woman? why don't i make the ceo a wom woman. >> doesn't that show how far we have come as a society that a woman with convincingly play a general or president, as you did. >> right, exactly. it's thoroughly believable. all we have to do now is to actually do it instead of always going to default, which is male. that is one way to very easily increase the percentage of female characters. the other is because crowd scenes the percentage of women in crowd scenes in movies is 17%.
>> in any given crowd scene. >> in any given crowd scene in live action or animated, 17%. i can't explain how that happens, but the other suggestion i give is have them write in the script a crowd gathers, comma, which is half female. >> then whoever cast the extras will get half of them female. >> right. >> now as an actress you've played untraditional female roles in thelma and louise. in a league of their own. when you portrayed the president of the united states. behind the scenes when you were playing those characters did you feel as empowered as the character you were playing? >> that's an interesting question. well thelma and louise really surprised us. nobody involved in the movie whatsoever had any idea it would
strike a nerve the way it did. it was 20-something years ago, you may not remember. >> i remember. it was formative for me. >> yes, right, not only was there a big positive reaction among largely women, but there was a very negative reaction in some of the editorials and reviews saying god, this is ruining the world now because women have guns. >> we should remind viewers who haven't seen it, that susan sarandon's character in the movie shoots a man because he's threatening your character sexually. >> yes, he was. he had actually stopped when she shoots him. he had stopped and said something that incenses her so much that she kills him. yes, there is that bit of violence. then we kill ourselves at the end, so there is that. but it's so profoundly not a violent movie.
the reactions are so over the top. when you think about there were three people killed, and two of them were us. >> you look back on that role as a dream role because of the complexity of the female characters? >> i do. i wanted that movie--i wanted to be in that movie so bad. i actually didn't care which part i played, but it took a year from when i read it until i finally got cast in the part because there were all these different directors, and different actresses attached and it kept falling apart, and falling apart. then ridley decided to correct it himself, and then to convince him. >> does it strike you as ironic that there was a character in that film named brad pitt, who was object ified as a male in perhaps your research observes
women being objectified in film? >> right, you know, that's interesting because when we were shooting the scene of the bedroom with brad and i, there is a shot of him standing up without his shirt on, and he's got that incredible stomach. ridcally scott was personally spraying evian on his body to catch the light in the right way. >> glistening abs. >> i'm going over there, hi, i'm the girl. you just assume that if somebody is going to be shot that way it's going to be the woman, but it was great. turn the tables, why not. >> and it was recently named one of the hollywood reporters top 100 favorite films. and on the cover you and susan sarandon recreate that original selfie you took. where do you rank that film as far as culture and as far as your career? >> as far as my life it really changed my life.
it was very, very impactful on me because it changed how i looked at future parts that i would play, that i wanted to--because it resonated so much with women, i realized you know, i want to think about what are the women in the audience going to think about the character i play. not that i wanted to play role models, which i don't like that term at 2058, because i think characters should be flawed, and certainly we --holding up drugs sex with strangers, kill ourselves. >> geena davis talks about gender equality on screen, and the responsibilities of writers and producers.
you're watching "talk to al jazeera." i my guest is geena davis, who also runs an institute on gender in media. >> as an actress in hollywood who does speak out on gender roles in film and in roles, does it damage one's career to do that? >> you know, not at all. not at all. we're actually very much embraced by the entire industry. thank god, i want to keep working. >> yes, of course. >> whenever we have a meeting at a studio somewhere, i say, you know, this is all just a ruse to get in here so i can ask you when is my next movie going to be made at your studio? tell me, what is next for you you? i've heard some rumors. >> right now i'm playing a role in the series of episodes on gray anatomy. i'm a doctor. i'm a surgeon. >> you're in one of the stem fields. >> yes, highly specialized doctor.
>> what do you want to be next for you? >> well, you know, as far as my career goes, i've been playing it the same way all along, which is when something good comes along, something that really speaks to me, i really want to do it, and i'll do anything to go after it, but otherwise i'd rather not work. >> you have a daughter. >> and fortunately, i've not run out of money yet, and i'm able to make these decisions. >> you've won your academy award. you've played some stellar roles. how many women get to be in the place where you are, where you actually get to pick and choose what roles you take? >> right, yes, which is great, but the flip side is that there are so few great parts for women actors that it gets harder and harder to find those roles. to be this fussy. >> it seems like there has been a lot of buzz this fall about
the primary timeline up and the number of great female protagonist roles. >> right. >> is it a case where film is lagging behind television when it comes to this? >> yes, definitely, definitely. tv is doing much better than film. except in kids' shows, in tv shows made for kids, the ratio is equally bad as to films. kids films and kids tv shows are the worst ratio of male-female characters. primetime, there are a lot of shows like "grey's anatomy," that are gender balanced, and a lot more female characters more and more, so it begs the question why don't we trust that in the movies where we're proving so clearly in television that people are very happy to see female lead characters. >> do big studios have to do
with that at all? >> well, the interesting thing is that so many studios have a film division and a television division and a cable division, why are there different ratios on all of those, and why didn't there a cohesive vision in the company? >> is it to do with the writers, producers? >> yes, you know, yes. some of our research found that if there is a woman writer director, or producer on a project, the percentage of female characters on screen goes up. that's important, too. not that tv is doing great in that area, but they do have more female writers. >> your institute, i believe did a big study nationally in 2004, so about 10 years have passed. have you seen a lot of gains in these areas? >> you know, no, we haven't seen the needle move significantly
enough to remark on it in over 20 years that we've studied. however, we did do a survey recently of everyone who has heard our presentation in hollywood, and found 68% said that it had impact--what they learned from us is that it impacted two or more of their projects, and 41% said that it had impacted four or more of their projects. >> you're having impact. >> we are. movies are coming out regularly now that we know we've impacted. yes, i think soon, by the time we update our research again in the few years i think the needle may have moved significantly for the first time in decades. >> you're watching "talk to al jazeera." ahead on the program i'll ask geena davis about her dream role. >> tuesday. from race relations to foreign policies, terrorism and the economy. >> if this congress wants to help, work with me. >> ali velshi kicks off our special state of the union coverage at 7:00. >> we'll take an in-depth look
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>> this is talk to al jazeera. i'm stephanie sy speaking with actor geena davis, who also works with u.n. women on gender equality. >> what would be your dream role today. >> role? >> in your age, given your vast repertoire of work, what would be the dream role? >> hum. >> aside from the president of the united states. >> after president where do you go from there? you don't get much more iconic than that. you know i don't know. i don't know specifically, but i see something like breaking bad or something, well, i want a part like that. >> an inmate, maybe?
>> yeah, or the wire, i want something really interesting and gritty. that would be fun. in many spheres of society we know in sectors of society we know that progress for women in leadership positions has stalled out for female ceos, females on boards, in lots of different areas, but the one area where females are lacking in droves that can change overnight is on screen. it's going to take a long time until congress is half women. let's face it, no matter how hard we work. but the very next movie someone makes can be jenter balanced. the next tv show could have a board with half women on it. so i think it's really exciting and encourages that the message is getting across in hollywood and that we will be able to see change in a matter of years.