Little Rock, Ark. – Geena Davis admits she quickly becomes obsessed.
These days, the Academy Award winning actor – don’t dare call her an actress – is obsessed with female portrayals and gender stereotypes in children’s media and entertainment.
Davis, 56, is the founder of The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, the only research-based organization working within the media and entertainment industry on entertainment targeting children 11 and under.
At a program sponsored by the William J. Clinton Foundation and the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service Davis said that research shows that there are fewer female characters in shows small children watch — and even those often wear skimpy clothes with tiny waists.
Most animated girls are royalty, a nice gig if you can get it, Davis joked.
But the issue is not to be taken lightly. Males outnumber females 3 to 1 in family films, according to research by Davis' institute. From 2006 to 2009, no female character was depicted in a G-rated family film in the field of medical science or law, or as a business or political leader.
Even more startling? Research shows that the more television girls watch, the fewer options they feel they have, Davis said.
The “Thelma and Louise” star said that that groundbreaking 1991 film, written by Callie Khouri, changed the course of her life.
Davis played Thelma, the suffering Arkansas wife who craves freedom from a controlling husband, while her co-star Susan Sarandon was Louise, a woman always in the driver’s seat of life – or so it seemed.
The movie won critical acclaim, and also inspired a lot of criticism.
“Oh my God, women have guns,” Davis said to laughter from the crowd.
A 1991 cover story in Time magazine was headlined “Why Thelma & Louise Strikes a Nerve.” (I saved the article because I’m slightly obsessed with “Thelma and Louise.”)
One male columnist said at the time that the film “justifies armed robbery, manslaughter and chronic drunken driving as exercises in consciousness-raising. He added that it was “degrading to men, with pathetic stereotypes of testosterone-crazed behavior.”
Davis admits that Thelma and Louise were not role models, but says the movie still empowered women, showing them that they could take control of their lives, even if things didn’t end well for Thelma and Louise. She said there are few opportunities in Hollywood for those kinds of female roles even 21 years after the movie’s debut.
In 2005, Davis starred in the ABC series “Commander in Chief,” playing Mackenzie Allen, the first female President of the United States. The series was cancelled after one season in a schedule move that confused viewers. Davis still received a Golden Globe for the role.
Off-screen, George Clooney is often mentioned as a possible office-seeker, so why not Davis?
She has an impressive bio: former trustee of the Women's Sports Foundation, serves on the board of the White House Project, is an appointee to the California Commission on the Status of Women, and is an official partner of UN Women in their effort to change the way media represents women and girls worldwide. Oh, and she’s a member of Mensa.
Forget Hollywood. I say, and let the ‘Draft Davis’ movement begin.
Suzi Parker is an Arkansas-based political and cultural journalist and author of “Sex in the South: Unbuckling the Bible Belt.” Follow her on Twitter at @SuziParker