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Geena Davis’ Bentonville Film Festival: Celebrating Women and diversity in film

In an attempt to diversify and expand roles for women in film, Geena Davis has spearheaded a Film Festival where diversity and women are not only celebrated but also demanded.

Geena Davis’ Bentonville Film Festival: Celebrating Women and diversity in film

It is, unfortunately, no secret that women across the world face stark disparities within finance, education, health, politics and many other arenas.

The United Nations, through its Millennium Development Goals initiative, has championed an increase in equality for women and girls across various sectors by 2015 However, despite this push, the promotion of gender equality worldwide has remained a very serious issue. An alarming example of where progression in this field remains painfully stagnant is in the U.S film industry.

Research conducted by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media revealed the sobering truth that the percentage of female speaking characters in top-grossing movies, has barely changed in roughly half a century. Furthermore, the percentage of females depicted as stereotyped and sexualised characters, outweighed those of sexualised male characters almost three to one. Whilst these results are not terribly shocking (in terms of what we have come to expect from Hollywood) they do provide an insight into the alarmingly slow rate that the US, and various other film markets, are progressing towards gender equality.

Geena Davis, who has previously spoken out against the gross misrepresentation of female characters within the film and media industries, began the Institute in 2004. The foundation has sought to enact change through ground-breaking research on gender disparity in the media industry and uses this to improve awareness through education and advocacy.

Earlier this month, Davis spearheaded the Bentonville Film Festival, with a mission to “ensure that the American entertainment industry represent the national audience and the growing diversity of the population of the United States”.

The film festival “is a critical component of how we can directly impact the quality of females and minorities on screen and behind-the-scenes” said Davis.

To qualify for the festival, a film has to have either a female as the starring role, a diverse cast, or a female director, producer or writer.

The finalists were guaranteed a commercial release and distribution across the AMC movie chain and streaming site Vudu.

“We need financial momentum to get things going, and I want to show how vital and commercial these kinds of films can be. We want people to want to come here, knowing they can get a film deal, but in order to qualify they need to hire more women and more minorities” stated Davis.

Janet Grillo’s “Jack of the Red Hearts” won the jury award for best film on the night. Grillo was thrilled with the representation and stated that “the festival is providing a bridge so all of our stories can be told… it’s an amazing opportunity, and I hope that it will pave the way for other women to tell their stories”.

That is exactly what Davis and her institution are aiming to do. Expel the myth of the ‘Hollywood female’ and repair the stagnant gender disparities that seek to define our generation, and those to come, if nothing is done to change it.

Davis hopes to bring the festival back next year, and expand participation – and in turn reach for the finalists’ films.

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