The queen of "girl power" on Hollywood's heroines

**ADVANCE FOR FRIDAY, FEB. 1--FILE** In this undated publicity file photo released by ABC TV, Geena Davis portrays Mackenzie Allen, the 45-year-old vice president who becomes the first female U.S. president in the new ABC series, "Commander In Chief," which premiered Tuesday, Sept. 27. (AP Photo/ABC, Kent Eanes, file) **NO SALES**
AP

Geena Davis' 1991 classic "Thelma and Louise" was one of the most iconic "girl power" movies.

Since then, the actress has taken on roles from pirate to president.

But these days, what really excites Davis is her Institute on Gender in Media.

In a first-of-its-kind study released Monday, the group looks at how women around the world are portrayed in film.

The findings suggest that what we see on screen bears little resemblance to real life.

On the surface, the box office blockbuster "Frozen" looks like a success story for women.

With two female leads, and written by a woman, it became the highest grossing animated feature of all time.

The whole world was singing a girls' song.

"When it came out, my boys were at a birthday party, talking about movies, and somebody brought up "Frozen," Davis recalled. "And everybody, including my boys, said, 'I love that movie. That's my favorite movie.'"

But Davis isn't fooled.

She says female-centric success stories --- like "Frozen," "Bridesmaids," or "Hunger Games" --- drum up an optimism far from reality.

"Movie after movie comes out that, that we wanna say, well, now-- now-- now things have changed," Davis said. "But it doesn't and it's because ... the powers-that-be are still saying, 'Yeah, but I don't know. That might have just been a one-off.'"

The Oscar winner might be best-known for strong, fearless roles, like gun-slinging Thelma, or no-nonsense Dottie.

But eight years ago, the mother-of-three found a new mission.

While watching children's movies with her daughter, she realized there was a profound lack of female characters.

That's when the actress became a number-cruncher.

She wanted data to back-up her suspicions.

And what did she find?

"It's all pretty disappointing, and surprisingly bad," Davis admitted. "The ratio of male-to-female characters in movies has been exactly the same since 1946."

According to Davis's research, the ratio is three men for every one woman in family films -- and that's for speaking roles.

In crowd or group scenes, females make up less than 20 percent.

Because she's worked in their world for so long, Davis is able to take her data straight to the studios.

"What I talk about when I go to the studios and networks is the world of the movie," Davis said. "Make whatever you were already gonna make. I don't say make the lead a female. But I do say populate the movie with more female characters."

Davis's newest study, released yesterday, examined 120 recent global films.

One of the biggest gender discrepancies found on-screen was in the workplace:

Male characters outnumbered female ones 13-to-1 as attorneys and judges, 16-to 1 as professors, and 5-to-1 as medical practitioners.

Davis says it matters because, "If they see it, they can be it."

"That's our motto," Davis said. "What we mean by that is if girls can see female characters taking up half of the space ... then they will think of that in their real life. There's a great example on television in forensic science, there are so many female forensic scientists, you know, with all the 'CSI' and 'Bones'... and in real life, the number of women that want to pursue that career and study that in college has sky-rocketed."

It's no surprise that Davis's latest role is that of a surgeon on "Gray's Anatomy" -- after all, if life imitates art -- she says she wants to make a lasting impression.

"All the fields we want, desperately want girls to get into: like science, engineering, technology and math, if they saw characters doing that, it would be perfectly natural for them to want to do that in real life and it would be perfectly natural for boys to see girls doing just as interesting things as their characters are," Davis said.