Geena Davis is best known as the star of "A League Of Their Own" and "Thelma & Louise." But for over a decade, Davis has held something of a second career as a proponent of better women's roles in film.
In 2004, she created the Institute on Gender in Media to further her cause. And last year, she founded the Bentonville Film Festival to champion stories told by, and starring, female and minority voices.
Critics sometimes cherry-pick commercially successful titles with strong female leads to prove studios are undergoing a deep transformation in how they regard women. Davis, however, said the movie industry still only regards successful films with prominent female stars as exceptions to its unstated rule: Audiences prefer to hear stories told by white men.
"They say, ‘Well, now things are better, because there’s been 'Hunger Games.' There’s been 'Frozen.'’ But no, those were also one-offs. The numbers yet have not moved in decades," the actress told The Huffington Post.
Davis was speaking from personal experience when she said no one movie has changed the industry's biases. In an interview for Harper's Bazaar's May edition, she recalled the reaction to "Thelma & Louise" in 1991 from cultural commenters excited that the film's popularity might inspire more female buddy comedies or action figures -- spaces typically dominated by men.
"The really short answer is, it didn’t do shit," she told Harper's. Elaborating on her earlier comments, the actress told HuffPost about the similar public reaction to "A League Of Their Own" in 1992.
"Suddenly everyone was like, ‘This rewrites everything,'" she said."Then, you know, name the [women-led movies] that came out since then."
Research on Hollywood's treatment of women and minorities on screen continues to inspire dismal headlines. This year's University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism report on diversity found that just one-third of speaking roles in 400 films released between 2014 and 2015 were performed by women. And only about 28 percent of speaking characters were non-white.
"We really have to get the momentum going. I don’t know how much more proof we need," said Davis, whose organization also funds research on diversity in entertainment conducted by USC. The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media has found a consistent lack of female characters in film -- hovering at or just below one-third of speaking characters for over 25 years.
One bulletproof line against the industry's rule, she said, is the massive success of December's "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" and its female main character, Rey.
"Men are no longer allowed to say, ‘Men don’t want to watch female characters,’" she told HuffPost. "We just have to get over that idea, because men will watch female characters if they’re interesting, if they’re fleshed out, if they’re not just one-dimensional eye candy."
Geena Davis' Bentonville Film Festival kicks off May 3, 2016, in Bentonville, Arkansas, and ends May 8.