Since 2004, Oscar-winning actress Geena Davis (The Accidental Tourist, The Long Kiss Goodnight, Thelma and Louise, GLOW) has been at the forefront of the conversation about representation on film. That’s when she founded the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, a research-based organization which aims to educate content creators, marketers, and audiences about the importance of eliminating unconscious bias in entertainment.
She and her team have developed a new digital tool which uses artificial intelligence to check scripts for gender bias, and The Walt Disney Company has agreed to use that tool to assess all of its upcoming film and TV projects. Read more about the new tool below.
The Hollywood Reporter has a solid explanation of this tool and what it does:
Named “GD-IQ: Spellcheck for Bias,” the new tool leverages patented machine learning technology developed at the University of Southern California Viterbi School of Engineering to rapidly analyze the text of a script to determine its number of male and female characters and whether they are representative of the real population at large. The technology also can discern the numbers of characters who are people of color, LGBTQI, possess disabilities or belong to other groups typically underrepresented and failed by Hollywood storytelling.
It’s important to note that Davis doesn’t view this as a tactic to “shame and blame” screenwriters and filmmakers, but instead to shine a light on the unconscious bias that may slip into scripts unintentionally and provide opportunities to correct those instances and ultimately improve representation on screen.
For me, there’s one major talking point here: this tool sounds like a great idea and a massive studio like Disney deciding to use it should absolutely be considered a step in the right direction, but even though I wholeheartedly support the notion of equal representation on screen, I don’t think this tool should be the final arbiter of what does or doesn’t make it into a script. Representation is hugely important and is clearly an area where Hollywood needs to improve, but at the same time, the types of characters who appear on screen should be dependent on what type of story is being told. If half the cast of The Shawshank Redemption were women, that would be an example of parity on screen, but it wouldn’t make any damn sense for a story set almost entirely at a men’s prison facility.
So yes, while it’s very cool to see Disney acknowledge that there’s room for improvement and actually take a step toward making a change, it’s clear that the GD-IQ: Spellcheck for Bias tool should be thought of as a powerful guideline and not the end-all, be-all solution to a long-established problem.
“Nearly every sector of our society has a huge gender disparity, particularly in leadership positions,” Davis said in New Zealand during a keynote speech (again via THR). “So how long is it going to take to correct that, to reach parity? No matter how hard we work, we can’t snap our fingers and suddenly half the corporate boards are women. It’s going to take a long time to make some of these changes.”
“But here’s my theory of change,” she continued. “There’s one category of gross gender inequality where the underrepresentation of women can be fixed absolutely overnight — and it’s onscreen. The very next project somebody makes — the next movie, TV show — can be gender-balanced. We can make this change happen very fast. In the time it takes to create a new show or a new film, we can present a whole new vision of the future. Yes, there are woefully few female CEOs in the world, but half of them can be female onscreen immediately. How are we possibly going to get the number of women and girls interested in STEM careers that we need for science, technology, engineering and math? There can be droves of women in STEM careers now on TV and in movies, and then it will happen in real life.”