The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media and the Bentonville Film Festival Prove that Inclusion is Good Business
Goal: Our goal for the Bentonville Film Festival is to advance onscreen gender equality and intersectionality through inclusive storytelling in films worldwide.
What it is: Co-founded by Oscar-winner, Geena Davis, the Bentonville Film Festival (BFF) was conceived as a platform to inspire more diversity and inclusion in media as a societal and business imperative by promoting underrepresented voices including women, people of color, LGBTQIA+, differently abled individuals both onscreen and behind the camera. The Institute is the primary research partner for BFF and together we convene the media ecosystem – advertisers, content creators and distributors – in support of media that accurately reflects the gender balance and diversity of our society. Consistent with the Institute’s motto: “If She Can See It, She Can Be It,” the motto for BFF is “If They Can See It, They Can Be It.”
Bentonville Film Festival Year 5 Recap
Impact: In five short years, BFF has increased in size (attendance and participants), corporate support and stature. 86% of this year’s BFF programming was represented by female filmmakers and 62% was represented by filmmakers of color, LGBTQIA+ or different abilities. The sold-out showings of these films prove again that inclusion is not only the right thing to do – it’s good for business. BFF is notably, the only festival that guarantees distribution for top prize-winner’s courtesy of AMC Theaters, Lifetime TV and streamer Vudu.
Earlier this year, the Geena Davis Institute released its Benchmark Report which looked at family films from 2007 – 2017. Findings showed that male leads outnumbered female leads two-to-one even though over the last two years, movies starring a female lead made significantly more money at the box office. The report also revealed that consistently, throughout the decade, fewer than 1% of family films featured a LGBTQIA+ lead or a lead with a disability. This disparity is something that BFF addresses head-on.
How BFF is charting the path and breaking stereotypes. Geena Davis posits that “our overall goal is not profoundly controversial. We don’t want to change the world; we just want our entertainment to reflect the world as it is – which is half female and incredibly diverse. That’s a very modest goal and if you think about it, it is also completely doable.”
One unique strategy employed at the festival is “Geena & Friends,” where a group of women actors read scenes that were all male originally. This year we did scenes from City Slickers, Monsters Inc., Jaws, Dumb and Dumber and Avengers Infinity War. It was not only entertaining, but this exercise showed how most parts could just as easily be played by a woman.
We also hosted a Filmmakers Retreat, where all the directors in the festival could participate in workshops and panels aimed at helping them to further their careers. This year 81% of the films in the competition were directed by women!
On another front, BFF embraces corporate sponsors such as Walmart, Coca-Cola and Marvel. In fact, all these “good deeds” sponsors have dedicated policies to diversity and inclusion.
How has participation in the Unstereotype Alliance positively impacted how your organization conducts business in both small and big ways? Participation in the Unstereotype Alliance has enabled the Institute to share its mission and findings with other, like-minded organizations while concurrently learning from their experiences. This is an invaluable exchange as the mix of nonprofit and for-profit participants with a global perspective on gender bias provides a unique view of the issues.
– Madeline DiNonno, CEO, The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media.
| Bentonville Film Festival Panel Discussion, from left to right:
MADELINE DINONNO – CEO, Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media
ILIA CALDERON - NEWS ANCHOR, Univision
SWIN CASH - WNBA
TRACEY MASSEY - PRESIDENT, Mars Wrigley North America
NOELLE STEVENSON - SHOW RUNNER, She-Ra
DETE MESERVE - WRITER/PRODUCER
GEENA DAVIS - ACTOR. COFOUNDER & CHAIR, Bentonville Film Festival. FOUNDER, Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media