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 W 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.”
Disney+ may benefit from further delays with the studio's theatrical releases as more movies may be going directly to the streaming service in the future. This, according to former Disney CEO and current Executive Chairman Bob Iger. It was recently revealed that Artemis Fowl will debut on Disney+ sometime this year, skipping a theatrical release. As Iger explains, that may not be the only title to make the move from theatrical to streaming, but don't expect to see it happen with the studio's upcoming tentpole releases.
Given what's going on in the world right now, most movie theaters are shut down entirely and virtually all major releases through June have been delayed. Some have wondered if Disney might put movies like Black Widow or Mulan on Disney+ instead. While that won't be happening, Bob Iger isn't ruling out other movies making the shift. Here's what Iger had to say about it in a recent interview.
'There are some we've decided to put on Disney+. We already announced one, Artemis Fowl, that would have been released in theaters. Others we've simply delayed. In some cases we've moved things onto Disney+ faster than we would have. Frozen 2 was one of them, but Onward would be the biggest example. It was in theaters when this happened.'
'We moved to a pay-per-view period for a couple of weeks where people could buy it and own it. And then we ended up putting it on Disney+. In terms of movies going ahead after Artemis, there may be a few more that we end up putting directly onto Disney+, but for the most part a lot of the big tentpole Disney films, we'll simply wait for slots. In some cases we've announced new ones already, but later on in the calendar.'
There is a lot to unpack here. Black Widow and several other delayed movies were recently given new release dates as Disney reshuffled its 2020/2021 calendar. Black Widow and other big-budget tentpoles stand to make far more money in theaters, even with a relatively uncertain future ahead, than they could possibly generate via streaming. So putting movies like them directly on Disney+ doesn't make that much business sense.
In the meantime, taking riskier projects such as Artemis Fowl and giving Disney+ subscribers something flashy and exclusive is helpful. But what other movies might fit the bill for streaming debuts? The New Mutants perhaps? Whatever the case, as Bob Iger points out, the studio is content to wait until things return to normal. Disney, more than any other studio in Hollywood, is capable of raking in big dollars at the box office. So this truly isn't that surprising.
Other studios, on the other hand, may see value in doing a VOD/Digital release. Universal kicked that door wide open a couple of weeks back by putting recent releases such as The Invisible Man and The Hunt online. Trolls: World Tour, which was destined for theaters, will arrive digitally this month. Disney has not yet set a premiere date for Artemis Fowl, but it's...