In fact, she’s built an research empire of sorts through her Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media and founded a film festival that both aim to empower underrepresented voices in Hollywood.
But on this day, beaming in via Zoom from Arkansas, Davis is mum, even when implored to end a 30-year debate among “A League of Their Own” loyalists by answering an all-important queery: Did Dottie Hinson drop the ball on purpose?
“I love that people still argue about it 30 years later,” she says, speaking of the climactic scene that costs the Rockford Peaches their World Series win and leaves one half of a feuding sister duo defeated. “I had to decide for my character what actually happened. So I, at least from my perspective, I know what happened … but I’ve decided I’m never gonna tell anybody.”
She loves the ending, too, she says, contested as it might be in some circles.
This, she says, came from advice she once received from Dustin Hoffman, who told her that when actors make a movie, they get one chance to get it right “and so you have to know that you did the best you could then,” she says.
“I’ve always really kept that philosophy and things don’t bother me at all. Really,” she says. “I enjoy watching them.”
And as for “A League of Their Own,” “it really holds up, you know?” she says.
Oh, we know.
Released on July 1, 1992, the late Penny Marshall’s “A League of Their Own” was a summer hit, grossing over $132.4 million and earning critical praise. It was supposed to change everything, with some predicting that the film — which included Tom Hanks and Madonna among its cast — would give way to a deluge of female-led sports films. That didn’t happen.
But three decades later, it lives on as a vital and beloved piece of film history in a world where its star is fighting to see the change in Hollywood that had been predicted back then and then some.
Let’s just say, she’s not dropping the ball.
‘We have a lot of more work’
“A League of Their Own” is a film that can be enjoyed by anyone, but it’s also a movie proudly claimed by women, who in it found a rare chance to see themselves in a sports film and not playing the supportive spouse to an athletic male character with a fully realized existence.
Davis hears stories all the time from women who say they play or played sports because of “A League of Their Own.” Davis found she had her own untapped athletic abilities while training for the film, too. (Those abilities at one point took her to Olympic trials in archery.)
But it was shortly before “A League of Their Own” that Davis really started to learn how to play ball in Hollywood.
In a 2019 interview with the Unladylike podcast, Davis pointed to her time working with Susan Sarandon on “Thelma & Louise,” calling it an eye-opening experience and education in directness.
“I realized later that I had never seen a woman behave like that; I’d never heard a woman ask for things without starting with, ‘I don’t know what you think. This might be a bad idea…'” she said in the episode.
Davis grew up in a very polite household. (In fact, she has a memoir called “Dying of Politeness” coming out this fall.) Asking for things was not naturally in her DNA.
Since starting her Institute in 2004, however, she’s found a way to marry Sarandon sensibilities with her own values to navigate the choppy waters of equality in Hollywood.
“My tactic of approach has been to get the research and the data, and then, because I can go directly to creators…I can very privately and collegially share this information with every studio, every network, every production company, and encourage the change that way,” she said. “So far, it seems to be really working.”
It really is.
One of the goals of the Institute at its inception was to have more lead female characters in kids movies and television. When they began their efforts, only about 11% of kids programming featured female characters in lead roles. Now, it’s 50%.
“I mean, we have a lot of more work … and, you know, other dimensions of underrepresentation, but we’re excited about that,” she says.
Another win: Her Bentonville Film Festival is now in its eighth year, taking place again this weekend in Arkansas. In last year’s juried competition, according to the festival, 71% of the films showcased were directed by women, 75% by people who were members of the BIPOC (an acronym for Black, Indigenous and People of Color) or API (Asian/Pacific Islander) communities, and 33% by people in the LGBTQIA+ community.
Davis said more and more, she’s approached by people who want to talk about the work she does with her Institute instead of her films.
“They really have thoughts to share and they really care about it. So that means a lot,” she says.
“A League of Their Own,” meanwhile, will soon have second life as a forthcoming Amazon series starring Abbi Jacobson, Chanté Adams and D’Arcy Carden, among others.
Though Davis is not set to appear in the project, it has her blessing.
“I heard about it maybe a couple of years ago and I’m very excited about it. I can’t wait and I’m doing some event with them soon, ” she says. “I really like that it’s about completely different characters, too. It’s a different team. It’s the same world, in the same environment, but a whole different set of people.”
Davis declared to her parents when she was a toddler that she was going to be in movies when she got older, but this chapter, as both an actor and bonafide world changer? She admits she never saw it coming.
“I never could have predicted that I’d have this whole other facet to my life,” she says, emphasizing that acting is still her day job. “It came about because I had kids … but my roles have impacted my life in such strong ways. You know, I became an athlete because of ‘A League of Their Own.’ And, uh, I became interested in women’s equality because of ‘Thelma & Louise.’ So my life is really shifted gears, depending what role I’ve played. It’s kind of been fascinating.”
Good thing Davis knows how to handle a curveball or two.