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Park City • All the recent buzz about gender inequality on Hollywood screens just underscores how "intractable" the problem has been over the past seven decades, says Oscar-winning actor Geena Davis.
That is, female characters represent just under 30 percent of the characters on screen, the same percentage for the past 70 years, according to research conducted by the actor's nonprofit Institute on Gender in Media.
The female representation on screen has "utterly stalled" since 1946, Davis said Thursday at the third annual Utah Women's Leadership Celebration at the Sundance Film Festival.
The event lauded 10 female leaders with Utah ties, including Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski, University of Utah Health Care CEO Vivian Lee, bookstore owner Betsy Burton, Spyhop Executive Director Kasandra VerBrugghen and visual artist Sibylle Szaggars Redford.
In attendance were power brokers including Sundance Film Festival founder Robert Redford, who is married to Szaggars Redford; Sundance Institute Executive Director Keri Putnam; and Utah first lady Jeanette Herbert.
Davis was the keynote speaker at the luncheon, during which she joked that her breakout role in the Utah-filmed "Thelma and Louise" was marking its 60th anniversary while she was turning 25. The joke followed Zions Bank President and CEO Scott Anderson's introduction, when he announced Davis' 60th birthday and presented her with her family tree traced back to 1640. Zions Bank sponsored the luncheon through its Women's Financial Group.
Davis says the reaction to the 1991 film, in which she starred with Susan Sarandon, profoundly changed her life and career. She was amazed when female moviegoers claimed to be inspired by the strength of characters that she describes "as making astonishingly bad choices" before killing themselves on screen. That's when she realized how rare it was for female moviegoers to see themselves on film.
The insight led her to launch her nonprofit in 2007, and she claims its national and global research studies have helped outline the scope of gender inequity in media. She says hiring more women to write and direct films featuring women is helping "to move the needle."
Davis praised actors and producers Sarah Megan Thomas and Alysia Reiner along with director Meera Menon and screenwriter Amy Fox, who were in attendance, for creating "Equity," the first film with a female lead who works on Wall Street.
"It's shocking it has taken so long," Davis said, adding that 11 percent of characters in films who work in financial jobs are women. That's in contrast to real-life percentages of about 28 percent of female executives in finance are female. "As poorly as women are represented in film, it is less than reality and it's fiction," Davis said.
"We're happy to welcome female storytellers into the mix so we can see what the world looks like through our eyes," said Caroline Libresco, a Sundance Film Festival senior programmer, as she introduced the private screening of "Equity."
Zions Bank recognized 10 female leaders for leadership in business, politics, art, health care and philanthropy as part of its third annual Women's Leadership Celebration at the Sundance Film Festival. Geena Davis, an Academy Award-winning actor and founder of a foundation focusing on gender imbalance in media, offered the keynote address.
Jackie Biskupski • Salt Lake City mayor
Betsy Burton • Owner of The King's English Bookshop and president of the American Booksellers Association
Anne Burke • Illinois Supreme Court justice
Vivian Lee • CEO of University of Utah Health Care
Susan Madsen • Director of Utah Women and Education Initiative
Donna Marriott • Member of University of Utah's National Advisory Council
Sibylle Szaggars Redford • Creator of "The Way of the Rain"
Diane Stewart • Founder of Stewart Family Foundation
Kasandra VerBrugghen • Executive director of SpyHop
Shelley Thomas Williams • Director of Zions Bancorp.