By Michael Varrati
If you’ve been noticing something a little off about the films and television you’ve been watching lately, you’re not the only one. Academy Award winner and social activist Geena Davis has had her eye on the silver screen for a while, both as a viewer and active participant in the industry, and could no longer ignore the facts: Women on screen are represented less.
For many, this dubious fact isn’t always immediately recognizable, because it’s been sold to us as an ingrained statistic since nearly the dawn of media. One need only to look at a popular property such as “The Avengers,” however, to get a startling dose of reality: Among a team of dynamic, full-explored male characters, there is but one female. Furthermore, while Captain America and Iron Man get to thrive and be further developed in their own independent features, Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow remains, as of yet, without a solo film to call her own.
It’s not a new trend, Davis points out, and maintains a screen ratio of men to women that hasn’t changed since the 1940s. However, it’s a fact that the star and her organization, The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, are actively working to change. Recognizing the shifting tide of audiences from the traditional to the digital, Davis turned to YouTube this past Wednesday, August 6, to take the discussion to the next level.
Hosted at YouTube Space LA, Davis and a panel of commentators converged to host a salon (part of the Institute’s See Jane Salon series) titled “Storytelling: Breaking the Boundaries for Women and Girls” on the subject of female representation in the digital space and beyond. Moderated by filmmaker Dyllan McGee (Makers), panelists included Jake Avnet (co-founder of WIGS), Betsy Koch (producer, Funny or Die), Eliza Skinner (writer, Funny or Die), Brin Lukens (producer/creative exec., AwesomenessTV), and Brian Dameris (chief of staff, 2929/Magnolia Films/Chideo). With discussion ranging from topics of representation to audience connectivity, the panel was intent on making some noise about a topic that has all but been stalemated into silence.
“Across all kinds of sectors of society, things have stalled out,” Davis said, speaking to the issue of zero movement in the percent of realistic representation. However, she was quick to point out, all sectors…but one.
“In the digital landscape, things are moving fast,” said the Academy Award winner. “This is a great place for us to change the perceptions of women, share more women’s stories, show women doing more interesting and different things.”
“In all of the sectors where women’s participation has stalled out, it’s going to take a long, long time to reach parity,” she continued. “But, the one place where things can change overnight is on screen. In the time it takes to create a YouTube show, a movie, or a television series, you can change what the future looks like. You can make the board half women, because why not? Who cares? It’s a made-up story anyway…And when women and girls see it, they realize they can be it. And when men see it, they can say, ‘Wow, that’s cool, that looks normal to me.’ That’s the incredible opportunity we have in the digital world, where things happen so fast.”
Betsy Koch of Funny or Die, which recently paired with the White House to produce a series of videos that address women’s issues (among other topics), echoed this sentiment.
“We have found that the internet is just a large newspaper, and you have to do things to cut through the bullshit to get to the front of that paper,” Koch said, citing the power of the net to bring attention to issues. “We try to come up with ideas that resonate with our audience, and we get cool people like Geena to participate.”
For Brin Lukens of AwesomenessTV, it’s a matter of positive representation.
Speaking about the creators AwesomenessTV has partnered with, Lukens was enthusiastic about the growing female voice in the space. “It’s been great, it’s been an outlet for these teens to see people who look like them,” she said.
…and while Davis’ assertion that media has a long way to go is 100% correct, it’s the kind of visibility of which Lukens speaks that is so crucial to moving forward. While each of the panelists opinions of how to achieve parity may vary, the end goal of the salon was the same: If girls see it, then they know they can be it…and the digital realm is one of the strongest tools for showcasing that fact.
Photos courtesy of YouTube Space LA