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Geena Davis on impact of ‘A League of Their Own’: ‘Nothing has changed’



TORONTO — When the women's baseball hit "A League of Their Own" came out 25 years ago, star Geena Davis considered it a home run for female empowerment.

"Suddenly I had every teen girl and young woman recognizing me from that movie and saying, 'You changed my life. I play sports because of that movie,'" Davis said in a recent chat about the April 18 release of an all-new, 25th-anniversary Blu-ray edition of "A League of Their Own."

The fictional account of the real-life All-American Girls Professional Baseball League hit theatres just a year after another landmark women's film, the heroine road-trip drama "Thelma & Louise," which also starred Davis alongside Susan Sarandon.

"It was quite a one-two punch as far as really making me so hyper aware of how few opportunities there were for women to come out of movies feeling excited and inspired by the female characters," she said.

Yet with onscreen diversity issues still raging, it seems not much has changed.

"In fact, nothing has changed, which I know because I since then have an institute that researches gender depictions in media and it didn't change," said Davis, who founded the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media in 2007 and won a 1989 best supporting actress Oscar for "The Accidental Tourist."

"It was just so fascinating how the press for 'A League of Their Own' was all saying, 'This changes everything because now there's going to be so many female sports movies' ... and there were none. There was absolutely zero momentum built from the success of that movie," added the Massachusetts native and member of the genius society Mensa.

"The same predictions were made about ('Thelma and Louise'): 'This changes everything. We're going to see so many more movies starring women about women in road pictures or female empowerment movies' — and that didn't happen either."

Penny Marshall directed "A League of Their Own," starring Davis as Dottie Hinson, the catcher for the first female professional baseball league, founded in 1943. The cast included Madonna, Rosie O'Donnell, Lori Petty and Tom Hanks. Davis got a Golden Globe nomination for best actress while Madonna got one for best original song for "This Used to Be My Playground."

Davis took up archery "just whimsically" after coaches on the set told her she had athletic potential. She ended up becoming a semifinalist in the Olympic trials.

"I'm grateful to the movie for awakening my untapped athletic ability," she said. "My archery coach called me a little while back and said that in 2012 the participation of girls in archery ... rose 105 per cent.

"It turns out, 'The Hunger Games' and 'Brave' came out that year, so we did a study and found that seven out of 10 girls said that they'd taken up the sport because of either Katniss or Merida.

"It just proves what my institute's motto is: 'If she can see it, she can be it.'"

Davis now reunites with castmates from "A League of Their Own" every year at a softball game put on by the Bentonville Film Festival (BFF), which she co-founded three years ago in support of women and diversity in the entertainment industry. The next game takes place in May.

While gender equality and diversity onscreen has been slower than Davis has hoped, the private meetings her institute has had with content creators have her feeling "very optimistic," she said.

"Nobody realized until I had the research how few female characters there are in the world that they are creating; in the fictitious world they're making, they're very often nearly bereft of presence," said Davis.

"I do feel that the groundwork is being laid for major change, so just give me another five years and I do think that we will see (a change) because we're seeing trends. Since I started this, we're seeing more movies with a female star, profoundly more. When I first started it was only 11 per cent and now, in our latest research, it's up to 32 per cent. So this is a huge shift. 

"I really want to get the population up, which is still hovering around 31 per cent of the speaking characters in films. So that's my big goal."

Victoria Ahearn, The Canadian Press

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