Emma Watson Interviews Geena Davis on Feminism

Apr 28, 2016

Posted by: Emma Pocock

News, Watson, Watson Interviews

Emma Watson teamed up with Interview Magazine to interview Thelma & Louise, The Fly and Beetlejuice star Geena Davis, on her fantastic work to confront sexism in Hollywood.

The interview starts with a great introduction on Davis, showing just how active she is in the movement:

“Twenty-five years after Thelma and Louise roared off in their 1966 Ford Thunderbird, the conversation around women’s agency in Hollywood hasn’t changed much. Davis, 60, is doing her part to change that. In 2004 she founded the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, an organization devoted to culling statistics on gender imbalance in children’s media and sharing it with the entertainment industry. Her work to confront sexism in Hollywood doesn’t end there: Last year she co-founded the Bentonville Film Festival. Taking place for the second year in early May in Bentonville, Arkansas, the festival supports women’s and diverse voices in media, giving all prize winners opportunities to distribute and release their work.”

Watson is a huge fan of Geena Davis as U.N. Women Goodwill Ambassador and leader of HeForShe, and after establishing their mutual respect for each other (Emma is “constantly citing research from [Geena’s] institute”), she asks how the Geena Davis Institute was established:

“DAVIS: It was more than ten years ago now. My daughter was a toddler. I had no idea there was anything wrong with kids’ media. [laughs] I figured, some of it’s educational, researched … Obviously, we all know the huge problem there is with entertainment in general leaving out women. Especially as actors, we know there are fewer great parts for women. But I started watching little preschool shows with her or G-rated videos or whatever; I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, that there seemed to be far more male characters than female characters in what we make for little kids. It was just a shock.

WATSON: I didn’t realize that I wasn’t moving in a gender-equal world—I had a sense of it, but I didn’t start to really see evidence of it, I think, until I hit puberty. Media even before that age is already creating all these biases.

DAVIS: And it’s like, is this not the 21st century? I mean, really? But that isn’t what made me do the research. I just started asking my friends if they had noticed. None of them—feminists, mothers, daughters—noticed until I pointed it out. Then I decided to bring it up within the industry. I knew a lot of people, so I’d say, “Have you ever noticed how few female characters there are in kids movies?” when I met a director, a producer, whatever. And they said, “Oh, but that’s not true anymore.” Then they would name a movie with one female character as the proof that things had changed. [Watson laughs] My point was the world is missing female characters. A lot of times there is one female character, maybe even a cool one, maybe even an important one. But where are all the rest? So that’s when I thought, “I want to get the research, because I’d like to know if I’m right.” It wasn’t so I could go educate the public, really. It was so I could go back to the people in the industry and present it to them and say, “See, it really is still a problem.”

Emma also talks about her own personal experience with the lack of women in politics, and on the set of Harry Potter:

WATSON: My primary school was two-thirds male to one-third female. [laughs] So I started my life that way. I have four brothers. And when I did Harry Potter, the ratio was more often than not, at the very least, one-third female, two-thirds male. But when I looked at your research and see things like 21 percent of filmmakers are women, only 31 percent of speaking roles in popular films are female—you start seeing it everywhere. It’s so much bigger. So you’ve uncovered this groundbreaking data and research. Now that you can see the Hollywood community digesting this information, what are your hopes for progress? Do you have hopes in terms of how quickly things might start to change?

DAVIS: I do. First of all, I realized that in all the sectors of society where there’s a huge gender disparity, the one place that can be fixed overnight is onscreen. You think about getting half of Congress, or the presidency … It’s going to take a while no matter how hard we work on it. But half of the board members and half of the CEOs can be women in the next movie somebody makes; it can be absolutely half. The whole point of why I’m doing this is to show all kids, boys and girls, that women take up half the space and do half of the interesting things in the world and have half of the dreams and ambitions. Our slogan is, “If they see it, they can be it.” So if we show fictional characters doing cool stuff, then girls will want to be it in real life. This is really funny, but we did a study of the occupations of female characters on TV, and there are so many female forensic scientists on TV because of all the CSI shows and Bones and whatever. I don’t have to lobby anybody to add more female forensic scientists as role models. There’s plenty. [laughs] In real life, the people going into that field now are something like two-thirds women.

They also speak about the benefits of women boosting other women’s confidence, and being there to help each other have voices. Geena speaks about checking through her movie script for any thoughts and ideas to give to the director with well known actress and activist Susan Sarandon, before shooting Thelma and Louise:

“DAVIS: So I meet Susan, and she was amazing. We sit down to go through the script. I swear, I think it was page one—she says, “So my first line, I don’t think we need that line. Or we could put it on page two. Cut this …” And I was just like … My jaw was to the ground. Because she was just saying what she thought! [laughs] She was saying her opinion. Even though I was 34 or 35 or something. I was like, “People can do that? Women can actually just say what they think?” It was an extraordinary experience to do that movie with her because every day was a lesson in how to just be yourself. 

WATSON: I bet that’s the biggest compliment that she could get. That’s so lovely.

DAVIS: I drive her nuts. I’m always talking about her being my hero. [laughs] I’m sure she’s probably sick of it.

WATSON: It’s so cool, though. I completely agree with you. I’ve had so many moments where seeing other women be fully and truly and authentically themselves, and express that, has given me permission. Once you see it happening, you’re like, “Oh, I have permission to do that, too.” What’s the best piece of advice anyone has ever given to you? It can still be from Susan Sarandon if you want it to be.”

Be sure to read the full interview here!

The Leaky Cauldron is not associated with J.K. Rowling, Warner Bros., or any of the individuals or companies associated with producing and publishing Harry Potter books and films.