Geena Davis And Paul Feig Discuss Harvey Weinstein, Complex Female Characters & Gender Equality

She’s an iconic actress who also heads up an institute which examines the data around gender in media in order to help proper gender equity on screen in Hollywood. He is a director whose films such as ‘Bridesmaids’, ‘Spy’, and ‘Ghostbusters’ have single-handedly trounced the ridiculous narrative that blockbuster films featuring an all-female lead cast can’t bring in big box office numbers.

So when Geena Davis and Paul Feig sat down for discussion about how to transform the culture of gender in equity in Hollywood, especially in light of recent major revelations of sexual misconduct by a number of powerful men in the film industry, some words of wisdom were definitely shared between the two. While we highly recommend reading the entire conversation over at The Guardian, here are our highlights:

On The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media…

“This started for me looking at kids’ TV and movies, and what I found was that it was universally completely unconscious. Nobody had any idea until they saw the numbers that they were doing this, and they were horrified. Why would we put things out that said boys are more important than girls? But they didn’t know they were doing it,” said Geena.

“I’ve noticed over the years, whenever anyone comes in to pitch us something, it’s always, ‘It’s about a guy.’ My first thing is always, ‘Could it be a woman?’ I’m more interested in telling those stories, anyway, but also, why is it important it’s a guy? Hollywood’s a liberal town. They’re definitely not behind the scenes going, ‘We’re not going to hire these women, that’ll show them.’ It’s just this default; they don’t think beyond what they normally do.” responded Paul.

On the importance of women’s occupations on screen…

“When you’re looking at professions and leadership positions, however abysmal the numbers are in real life, it’s much worse on screen. In fiction, where you make it up, it’s worse than real life,” said Geena, referencing a study her institute conducted around this issue.

“That mantra that you have, if you can see it, you can be it, that’s like the golden rule. The thing that makes me the happiest about Ghostbusters is that so many women wrote me and said, ‘If I had this movie when I was in college, I would have been an engineer or a scientist by now’ and it just guts me to hear that,” said Paul.

“It’s called the CSI effect. When women saw so many forensic scientists on TV, they said, I want to be that, and now something like 75% of people going into that field are female, just because they saw it on TV,” Geena added.

On the decline in complex female protagonists in blockbuster films…

“I think it was the advent of the blockbuster, where they started realizing 15-year-old boys are our target audience. They’re the ones that come to see sci-fi, superheroes and all that. From the 70s, all movies started catering to what 15-year-old boys would react to and keeping out things that would make them go, ‘Eww, gross!’ And that would be girls. If there’s a girl, she’s got to be super-hot, or else she’s got be a drag and she’s in your way. And then, obviously, there’s guys behind the scenes who are writing this down and all of us aren’t exactly the most mature people in the world,” said Paul.

On the culture of sexual harassment and predatory behavior in Hollywood…

“I just did a panel for Variety magazine and one question was, ‘How is Hollywood different from other industries?’ And the thing we always say is, “It’s not: all industries go through this.”…The Harvey [Weinstein] thing is so reprehensible to me, and all those other guys. You know exactly the power you hold over these really beautiful people when they come in and are completely inexperienced and ready for anything. That’s when you’re a predator,” said Paul.

“Women are going to have to be as vital as they are now, and more so, and they need men to back them up…It’s fighting that mindset and also the [martyred male executive voice], ‘Well, Jesus, I guess I can’t do anything?’ Well, stop doing anything that you might be worried about,” he added, explaining how he changed his policy of meeting with potential actors for his films for drinks to meeting with them in his office, after advice from his lawyer wife who said it has the potential to make people feel uncomfortable.

“If it’s a woman who’s an assistant and feels cowed and abused by her male boss, then she probably knows exactly what’s going on, but feels powerless. I’m waiting to hear from more of those people,” said Geena, alluding to the fact that the majority of stories about sexual misconduct we’ve heard are from high-profile stars such as Salma Hayek, Rose McGowan, and Angelina Jolie.

“I wonder if it’s almost like desensitization to violence, where you just go, ‘That’s just what happens, this is just what Harvey does, these girls, they knew what they were getting into.’ Well, no, they didn’t. They thought they were going to have a meeting, and this horrible thing happens,” added Paul.

On being intentional about changing the culture…

“It has been part of the Hollywood lore for so long: ‘That’s his process.’ The fish stinks from the head down, especially in movies, where the director sets the tone. I feel like younger people coming in…Everybody likes to make fun of the self-esteem they’re teaching in schools. I think there’s a good side to that, which is, stick up for yourself, don’t put up with that,” said Paul.

“Quite a while ago, I had two directors who just made life a misery for everybody, and in both cases I was the female lead, but I didn’t feel comfortable enough to stand up for myself. Whereas now, if that happened to me, I would say, ‘No, this is not going to happen. You’re not going to be able to abuse everybody’,” said Geena.

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