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On Thursday, November 1, Lakeland Regional Health Foundation will be hosting its annual Women in Philanthropy Luncheon. The Lakelander had the opportunity to get an exclusive interview with this year’s guest speaker – Oscar-winning actress Geena Davis.

At three-years-old, Geena Davis announced to her parents that she wanted to act in movies.

Acting is my favorite and most-fulfilling means of self-expression…acting is my calling

Geena Davis

“I can’t imagine what I saw that gave me that idea. How did I even know that was a job at that age?” says Davis. Yet, she held on to this dream and went on to major in acting with no back-up plan. “I’m just grateful it worked out! Acting is my favorite and most-fulfilling means of self-expression…acting is my calling” says Davis.

Most may be familiar with Geena Davis through her iconic roles as Thelma in Thelma & Louise, Dottie Hinson in A League of Their Own, and Barbara in Beetlejuice. “By far the best written role I’ve ever played was Thelma in Thelma & Louise. It was also the most fun and challenging role for me as an actor” recounts Davis. She was later nominated for an Academy Award for this performance. “It’s so rare to land a role where your character has a really big arc, especially for women, and the thing I value most in this industry is a chance to try something really challenging.”

And as a women in a male-dominated industry, this has been a challenge. Even playing the president of the United States in the TV show Commander in Chief, Oscar-winning actress Davis has spent most of her acting career choosing roles that empower women and has been widely recognized for these roles and so many more throughout her career. “Before even reading the script, when the role was offered to me [for Commander in Chief], I remember thinking what could be better than the opportunity to play arguably the most iconic character a woman could play…the first woman president of the United States!” says Davis. “It was really the role of a lifetime.”

Seeing a severe gender imbalance across Hollywood, Davis became outspoken about women’s representation in media.

Geena Davis has also been nominated for other numerous awards and, in 1989, she received an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in The Accidental Tourist. However, it’s also important to note that Davis has left a significant mark on the world of media while off-camera too, especially in regards to gender equality. Seeing a severe gender imbalance across Hollywood, Davis became outspoken about women’s representation in media.

“We are always eager to announce ‘now, things have changed’ for women, but the facts show otherwise. It’s time for a dramatic shift in the numbers of women in front of and behind the camera” says Davis.

In response to this disparity, she decided to launch the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. Davis and this research-based organization are committed to providing work that ultimately supports a diverse portrayal of society while supporting young girls in today’s culture.

Tireless in her efforts, Davis’s advocacy has transformed media. “From my experience, I think the struggle to a great extent has been because of unconscious bias” says Davis. The institute’s extensive research has educated media producers and elicited needed change.

“They were aware they were making more movies with a male lead character than female ones, but they really had no idea that the fictitious worlds they were creating were nearly bereft of female presence. Now that they have been made aware through our research, I find a lot of willingness to change” says Davis.

Because of the impact of Davis’ advocacy, she is the ideal guest speaker for Lakeland Regional Health Foundation’s annual Women in Philanthropy Luncheon.

I’m thrilled that the Lakeland Regional Health Foundation thought to invite me to come and speak at their Women in Philanthropy Luncheon

Geena Davis

Similar to Davis’ organization, Women in Philanthropy is comprised of women who also desire for women and children to be empowered and leave a mark on our own community. Since 2006, Women in Philanthropy has made generous annual grants to support Lakeland Regional Health’s programs and capital needs to positively impact the health of women and children in our community.

According to a Lakeland Regional Health statement on the luncheon, Vice President of Lakeland Regional Health Foundation Timothy J. Boynton says, “We are extremely excited to have someone as admired and acclaimed as Geena Davis appearing in Lakeland. She evokes a sense of passion and strength as she shares her important messages on gender equality around the world.”

“I’m thrilled that the Lakeland Regional Health Foundation thought to invite me to come and speak at their Women in Philanthropy Luncheon. There’s a strong current of philanthropy in the community, working to deliver nationally recognized healthcare and strengthen the health of the community overall. I’m really looking forward to my visit.” says Davis.

Proceeds from this luncheon will go toward the state-of-the art, eight-story Carol Jenkins Barnett Pavilion for Women and Children. The event will be held on Thursday, November 1, at 11:30 a.m. at Haus 820. 

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