It’s been 30 years since Geena Davis starred in Thelma & Louise, the Ridley Scott film that was once lauded as the beginning of a new era of female leads. Now, she’s got the perfect answer for whether the ultimate women-led buddy comedy would have been better if it was directed by a woman.
“I would say that I don’t think anybody could have done a better job than Ridley did. I mean, he did an extraordinary job. He understood it backwards and forwards,” she told MovieMaker during her Bentonville Film Festival, which promotes diversity and gender parity.
“And so when people say men shouldn’t direct movies with women in them, I say, well, but Ridley. But then on the other side, I don’t think we should limit women to only directing movies about women. Women should be able to, honestly, direct Hurt Locker and anything they want.”
She also pointed out that when women are given a chance to direct, they are often pigeonholed into a specific genre.
“It tends to be that women are sort of relegated to softer relationship movies and things, and they want to do everything just like men want to do everything,” she says. “So it’s really just about expanding opportunities and figuring out the talent of the person — can they do that project, and not whether their gender is going to get in the way.
“Having said that, directors should be 50/50. There should be half directors that are women in Hollywood,” she concluded. “And then everybody can direct whatever the heck they want.”
Both Geena Davis and her Thelma & Louise co-star, Susan Sarandon, were nominated for Best Actress for their c0-leading roles in the film. Screenwriter Callie Khouri won an Oscar for the film.
But all these years after Thelma & Louise, Davis says she’s “surprised how little” has changed in terms of representation for women and people of color. She recalls how much hope she had for the future when the film first premiered, and how few of those hopes ended up coming true.
“When Thelma & Louise came out, all the press was saying universally, ‘This will change everything. Now we’re going to see so many movies with female leads,'” she says. “Susan [Sarandon] and I were like, ‘Hot dog! We’ve ushered in a new era, just wait for that to happen!’ And it profoundly didn’t. Now, are things better in some ways, 30 years later? Yes, but not tremendously.”
The actress’s own Geena Davis Institue on Gender in Media did a study in 2015 that found that male characters in the top-grossing non-animated films that year received twice as much screen time as female characters.
“Our research shows the ratio of male to female characters in film has not changed since 1946,” Davis told The Associated Press in 2017.
But Davis gave MovieMaker some insight into how film festivals can ensure that their efforts towards diversity and representation aren’t just all talk.
“It takes a very, very conscious effort. I was in Australia a few years ago and doing a panel, and a woman told me that every year in Australia, they have this short film competition and it’s very popular and well known… and every year, only about 17% of the films chosen to compete are directed by women. And so this one year, they decided you know what, just for the heck of it, as an experiment, let’s take the names of the directors off the films and just see if anything happens,” she says.
When the jury didn’t know the gender of the directors, they ended up choosing 50% women-directed films and 50% male-directed.
“So, these were intelligent, incredibly well-meaning people who were trying to be unbiased, and they couldn’t do it unless the names were [not] up. So it just shows you how much we have to contend with when we’re trying to be unbiased. And so, hey, if that’s what it takes, do it. It’s really tough to block your own unconscious biases unless you’re really willing to take exteme steps to make sure that you do.”
You can watch the full interview above.
The Bentonville Film Festival, founded by Geena Davis, is now underway and runs through Sunday.
Main image: Geena Davis.