Geena Davis' Bentonville Film Festival Promotes Feminism & Diversity, As Every Festival Should
It's not the first and it certainly shouldn't be the last, but the first annual Bentonville Film Festival in Bentonville, Arkansas, is the type of showcase for films that should become standard for all others. The festival's mission statement is "to be a positive and proactive influence in filmmaking to ensure that the American entertainment industry represent the national audience and the growing diversity of the population of the United States." Basically, they hope to champion more feminism and diversity in media — and thank goodness. Promoting diversity and especially female-driven and female-centric projects seems to be a challenge for many film festivals even to this day.
The film festival is the brainchild of movie producer and executive Trevor Drinkwater, as well as Louis Gerth, the senior director of movies at Wal-Mart whose headquarters is located in Bentonville as well. They asked Geena Davis and her advocacy group, the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, to co-found the festival, which, in its first year, screened 46 incredible films featuring a wide range of diversity and feminism.
While 2015 has shown Cannes Film Festival to be improving its level of feminism, after years of ignoring female-created and female-centric films, there are still problems with inclusion. After all, many people still believe (and 2012's Cannes Film Festival director Thierry Fremaux stated) that it's not their fault that the film industry is still mostly male-driven.
Here's the thing about that notion: If we continue to take ourselves out of the conversation by saying it's not our fault that the stigma and these mindsets still exist, then how is anything going to change? That's why Bentonville Film Festival is a huge step in the right direction. For the first time, a film festival funded and led by major players in the film industry and the business world are standing up and demanding the change. Again, there are many film festivals throughout the country that have been championing the same notions as Bentonville — I personally have been to a few, like the Citizen Jane Festival in Columbia, Missouri — but the grander scale that Bentonville Film Festival reaches is what will incite change at a larger level.
With more notice being taken towards diversity and feminism, these ideals will no longer have to feel like minority ideas. Take, for example, the recent Deadline article about the "diversity trend" in casting for television. The fact that anyone believes casting diverse actors is a "trend" and shouldn't just be in everyone's minds is a frustrating and obnoxious idea. If other institutions in the entertainment industry could, in fact, embrace the idea of opening up more roles for diversity and feminism, it wouldn't feel like a "trend." Instead, it would feel like real life.
There are diverse people and women in positions of power, there are more than just white families where the men work and the women stay home, there are funny and diverse women who deserve to be in the spotlight. These are all things that occur in real life. Why wouldn't we want to show that on screen with diversity and feminism behind-the-scenes as well?
Bentonville Film Festival holds a lot of weight right now and has a lot of pressure to be a better, more inclusive film festival. I have every hope in Davis (and the other teammates), because, if anyone can understand promoting diversity and feminism in particular, it's the woman who has played a female baseball player, a female robber, and the first female president. Let's hope they can continue to shoulder this responsibility for now, and help break the stigmas that stop diversity and feminism from growing on- and offscreen.