Geena Davis Says Diversity and Inclusion Are ‘Inherently Not Controversial’

From June 10 to June 16, actress and activist Geena Davis, alongside festival director Wendy Guerrero and many others, will be hosting the 10th anniversary of Arkansas’ Bentonville Film Festival. This year’s fest is expected to attract 65,000 attendees and, as with its previous installments, centers on championing the films and voices of women, non-binary, LGBTQ+, BIPOC, API, and persons with disabilities in entertainment and media. In a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter promoting the festival, Davis said that while the work BFF does is in a good place, there’s still more to be done.

“We’re making tremendous progress with gender, race and ethnicity-based inclusion,” said Davis. “Unfortunately, representation for people with disabilities is still in the low-single-digits, despite one in four Americans identifying as being disabled.”

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Though enjoying movies may not seem like a political act, choosing to center DEI initiatives at a festival that takes place in as dark a red state as Arkansas in the middle of an election year can be viewed by some as risky behavior.

“I don’t want to get into politics, but I will say that BFF is staying the course, and our mission has never changed,” Davis said when asked what the importance of staging such an event in this place and time was. “Our corporate partners and studio partners haven’t backed down. The idea that you should be able to watch a movie and see yourself and your experiences reflected back at you is inherently not controversial.”

With festivals struggling to stay on their feet post-pandemic and now still dealing with the residual effects of last summer’s dual strikes, Davis isn’t giving up on providing tools and mechanisms for helping independent artists establish themselves, even as the job becomes harder to do.

“I’m an incorruptible optimist when it comes to having high hopes for festivals,” said Davis. “One thing that’s helped us is having a fierce devotion to our original mission, which is very much focused on underrepresented voices. You need to know that you’re serving a specific function and stay very passionate about that goal. Also, having enthusiasm from the community is crucial. Bentonville locals love the festival. I feel it each year the minute I get on the plane. People say, ‘Hey, I know where you’re going!’”

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