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Behind the Scenes With the Indefatigable and Bold Geena Davis

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With another presidential election coming up and everyone buzzing about Bachman, doesn’t it feel like -- once again -- along with the opportunity for citizens to consider a female for president, that it is also an opportunity for media consumers to demand to see a female commander-in-chief on the screen? 

What seems like a stretch for Hollywood has actually come and gone. Remember Geena Davis’ television series, Commander in Chief, in which she believably played the president of the United States (and won a Golden Globe for Best Actress!)? Unfortunately, the show didn’t last the first time around, but we think it’s time for a second chance.

Geena would be up for it, as she told us when I interviewed her last month in Los Angeles. In our revelatory interview, we talked about how Geena is known for breaking stereotypes on screen, most recently for that award-winning role in Commander in Chief which, yes, she would very much like to take on again. And as one of the show’s producers as well as star, she is considering her options. (Note to cable channels…chance to tap into the zeitgeist of women leaders.)

Of course, Geena is probably better known for another stereotype-busting role she played in Thelma and Louise, an iconic film enjoying a re-release on its 20th anniversary. In this film which certainly captured the attention and admiration of millions of women all over the world, the role model is more morally complex to say the least -- as Geena joked -- a role model that drinks, drives, goes on a shooting spree, and then kills herself.

The long distance in between those two role models of Commander in Chief and housewife let loose is clear, but Geena suggested that there was a similarity in the roles, as well as others she has chosen to play: all women seeking the freedom to do what they want and be what they want. Surely, in between President of the United States and a road trip binge that ends up in suicide there are many other roles women can and do play in real life, but, as Geena points out, there are still few roles that portray independent women fully realizing their potential or pursuing their dreams on screen or on television.

This lack of good role models for women, and especially for girls who need to see what they can be in order to have those dreams and ambitions, is something that has concerned Geena and many of us for quite some time. What is so admirable is that rather than just complaining about it, Geena has committed her time and her own resources to bring this deficit of positive role models to the attention of the industry. Through The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media she is doing the research to make the case with facts and figures, and in taking the information public, the institute has become the leading resource for gender in media research, trends and education.

Geena devotes nearly all of her time to using every platform offered to share the information, to raise the awareness of the huge gap that still exists between the lives and roles women are playing in the real world and the roles that women are playing in the ‘reel’ world and on television. She has brought her research and her advocacy to the General Assembly of the United Nations and she has lobbied on Capital Hill and has become a respected spokesperson for better gender balance and better role models for girls in children’s television and more positive representations of girls and women in all media. There’s a great need and Geena is bringing attention to this and using her celebrity to get people to listen…people who can change the picture.

Her work as an advocate has impacted her own career. She was stunned recently when she was visiting with a studio exec who was surprised to find out that she still wanted to act. “Geena,” he said, “you have this other important work you're doing, so you're not interested in acting, right?”

“I have an agent. I'm reading scripts,” Geena replied. “Why wouldn't I want to act?”

She went on to confirm what many of us have observed -- there aren't good roles there, period, but the industry really tends to discard women after 50, even women who have won Academy Awards. Here are these women, at the prime of their lives like Geena and with so much knowledge and experience and talent. Let’s see all that on screen and on television playing roles like Commander in Chief and yes, Thelma, too.


   

The next two She's Making Media events at the Paley Center in New York are Arianna Huffington on Nov. 9 and Tyne Daly on Nov. 14.

This post originally appeared at the Paley Center for Media's Pat Connects blog.

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