Geena Davis just got an honorary Oscar for her work fighting gender inequality

Actor Geena Davis knows gender inequality can't be fixed overnight — except on screen.

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Maddie Capron
Christina Zdanowicz, CNN
CNN — Actor Geena Davis knows gender inequality can't be fixed overnight — except on screen.

Davis was celebrated Sunday with an honorary Oscar for her work fighting gender inequality. Called the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, the honor is given to someone whose humanitarian work has made a difference in the industry.

"Here's my theory of change: nearly every sector of society has a huge gender disparity problem," Davis said when she accepted the award. "But there's one category of gross inequality where the under-representation of women can be fixed absolutely overnight: on screen."

Davis has spent years battling gender inequality that can be seen on screen. Her work has stretched off screen and beyond her roles in "Thelma & Louise" and "A League of Their Own," and her Oscar-winning role in the 1988 movie "The Accidental Tourist."

She founded the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media in 2004 with the goal of collaborating across the entertainment industry to achieve gender balance and smash harmful stereotypes.

The institute also works to create "an abundance of unique and intersectional female characters" in entertainment for children 11 and younger, according to its website.

She's not just fighting for equality of the characters on the screen, though. Recently, she called the under-representation of women in Hollywood who work behind the camera an "embarrassment."

Her work isn't just talk. According to the institute's website, it has influenced significant gender portrayal in big hits like "Empire," "Inside Out" and "Monsters University." Nearly 70% of executives who are familiar with the institute's research have changed two or more of their projects, according to the institute.

"Geena's ethics, her principles, her sense of what is right or wrong -- as demonstrated in all her world -- led to her turning the same focus she gives her bow and arrow, her laser focus, on a social imperative," actor Tom Hanks said to honor Davis.

Davis joins the ranks among past Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award winners like Audrey Hepburn, Oprah Winfrey and Frank Sinatra.

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