Boston University Alumna Geena Davis was awarded the Bette Davis Lifetime Achievement Award Friday for her efforts to empower women and her success in film and television.
“I not only had unshakeable faith that I was going to realize my dream, but I am so lucky … to actually see my dream become a reality,” said Davis, who graduated from BU in 1979. “I have only played very powerful roles that inspired girls.”
More than 600 people attended the ceremony, hosted in the Metcalf Ballroom by the Bette Davis Foundation and the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center. The ceremony featured extensive collections of both Bette and Geena Davis’ work. Vita Paladino, the director of the Gotlieb Archival Research Center Director spoke at the ceremony. Chairwoman of CBS Entertainment and Davis’ former BU roommate Nina Tassler and Bette Davis’ son and representative of The Bette Davis Foundation Michael Merrill also gave speeches.
The Bette Davis Lifetime Achievement Award honors individuals who use their prominence in film and television to inspire positive change.
“The Bette Davis Foundation presents this award only every so often,” said Danielle Klaussen, the Gotlieb Archival Research Center’s public relations consultant. “Geena Davis has a career dedicated to gender studies in media and believes that there are not enough programs for women.”
Geena Davis starred in several acclaimed films and programs, including The Accidental Tourist, Thelma & Louise and Commander in Chief, a show in which she played a female president.
Davis, who has won a Golden Globe and an Academy Award during her acting career, has devoted much of her time to the women’s empowerment movement and the crusade against gender inequality in film and television.
“In addition to being a fine actress, she is a voice for women and she has what we call television quotient, which means she can get her cause heard front and center,” said Diane Gallagher, an archivist at the Gotlieb Archival Research Center.
Paladino said Bette and Geena Davis, both New England natives, had strong similarities.
“They enrich our lives through their art and activism,” she said.
Davis founded the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media and See Jane, programs that work to prevent gender stereotyping and inequality. Davis started her career at BU, which Gallagher believes should inspire BU students and provide an example for what they can accomplish.
“BU has always been a leader in good causes,” Gallagher said. “Students need to realize that they have the ability and the responsibility to take action.”
By awarding Geena Davis with the Lifetime Achievement Award, BU demonstrates its support for equality, said BU Academy’s Director of College Counseling Jill Atkinson, who attended the ceremony.
“It is a noteworthy honor for her to be given,” she said. “It sends a strong message that diversity and equality are two things that Boston University values.”
Several students said Davis’ career and activism inspired them.
“This event shows BU students that we can do something big,” said Annabel Sanchez, a College of Arts and Sciences sophomore. “It is so great to see alumni doing such great things with their lives, especially because Geena Davis uses her fame and celebrity status for a progressive movement.”
Brian Fleming, a College of Communication sophomore, said he was impressed by Davis’ ability to use her fame empower women.
“In my sexism class we’ve been discussing the importance of giving a proper voice to women and women’s rights,” he said. “Ms. Davis is a good role model not only for women, but for men.”
Janée Johnson, an employee at the research center graduating from the School of Law this year, said while many forget their alma mater after graduating, Davis has been back to Boston University on more than one occasion.
“It’s nice to have someone who honors BU and honors her education,” she said. “It’s good for BU students to see someone from BU who is an example of what can be done with an education — just like she did, students can succeed.”