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Study: Number of Female Protagonists On Screen Improved in 2015 — But Not By Much

Study: Number of Female Protagonists On Screen Improved in 2015 -- But Not By Much

Today sees the release of the It’s A Man’s (Celluloid) World report for 2015, the annual study which examines the portrayal of female characters featured in the top 100 domestic grossing films of the year.

The latest from Dr. Martha Lauzen at San Diego State shows women accounted for 34% of major characters and only 33% of speaking characters in the films considered (not including any foreign movies which made 2015’s top 100). These stats do show a modest increase from last year, though — and in fact represent recent historical highs.

The percentages of female characters of color remained largely unchanged since 2014, however. There was a slight increase in black female characters, no change in the percentage of Latina characters and a slight decrease in the percentage of Asian female characters. Furthermore, only 27% of black, Latina, Asian and females of other races/ethnicities were major characters — as opposed to 38% of white females.

There is at least some promising news to be taken away from the report. 2015 saw a marked increase in the number of hits at the U.S. box office featuring female protagonists. Last year’s figure stands at (an admittedly still measly) 22%, a gain in 10 percentage points from 2014 which represents another recent historical high — though as Dr. Lauzen commented, “[w]e will need to see a couple more years of data before we’ll know whether this is the beginning of an upward trend.”

The annual study also continues to provide hard evidence that more women in senior creative positions makes for better female representation on screen.  Indeed, in films with at least one woman director and/or writer, women comprised 50% of protagonists. In films with exclusively male directors and writers, however, the percentage of women protagonists drops to 13%.

Women remain younger than their male counterparts across the board and gender stereotyping is still a prominent issue, with women less likely to have work-related goals or even to be seen in a work setting.

As this issue continues to gain more traction and interest we will be doing a deeper dive into comparing and contrasting the different research studies to really see from a variety of different points of view and methodologies where the progress is being made.  

Check out the full report for 2015 courtesy of San Diego State’s Center for the Study of Women in Film & Television here.

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