Film and television aimed at families and children routinely underrepresent girls and women. According to the Geena Davis Institute, movies and TV shows for those demos feature on average three male speaking characters for every one female speaking character.
Animation comprises a major portion of those movies and TV shows, and stats presented by Women in Animation (WIA) at the Annecy International Film Festival in southeastern France help explain why and how the media normalizes universes where boys and men make up 75% of the population.
Though a study suggested that women make up the majority of students at animation programs today, research compiled by the Animation Guild note that female creatives total only 20% of the workforce. Women make up a scant 10% of animation directors and producers, 17% of writers, 21% of art/designers and 23% of animators. Things are no better in Canada, where women make up 16-18% of animation creatives.
In the last five years, only three features in the US and two in France were helmed by women — and all as part of a male-female directing team. Jennifer Yuh Nelson ("Kung Fu Panda") and Jun Falkenstein (“The Tigger Movie”) were the only two female solo directors to helm US-produced animated features in the last 15 years.
“The numbers are out of proportion because there has been very little work done to intentionally change the status quo," said WIA co-president Marge Dean. "Most hiring in entertainment is risk-averse, where people hire who they know. It’s easier, but what that leads to is the hiring of the same people and, up until recently, primarily men.”
“Additionally, women have been trained to be artists in animation schools but not to be leaders. They need to be encouraged to be brave enough to step up to the plate,” she continued. “As Lisa Henson said in her keynote address last night, ‘Women love to help make things happen and nurture projects… but my experience is that young women are not brave enough to say I want the film to be my film and I want to be the director.’”
Thus, Dean declared, “Our work is twofold: Get the industry to make the extra effort to find the new untapped talent available, and then get the women to have the courage to see themselves as creative leads and pursue that goal.”
WIA’s aim is to reach a 50-50 ratio of men and women in animation by 2025.
“Animation is a small niche in the greater world of entertainment and creating content. Therefore, it is a more manageable battlefield," said Dean. "When we are successful in having real impact in changing the animation industry, it will be a great example of what is possible on a larger scale.”
“Further," she added, "because animation is primarily kids’ and family content, we will be able to show a different representation of female characters in both quantity and quality to a younger and more impressionable audience, leading to a very different view of women and their role in the world.”