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Female Protagonists Underrepresented Onscreen Five to One

Women and Hollywood By Melissa Silverstein | Women and Hollywood March 11, 2014 at 10:31AM

Wonder why you only see movies about men? Why the multiplex is full of superheroes? Why male role models dominate our airwaves? It's because men make up 71% of all protagonists.
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Remember last week when we were all so happy about what Cate Blanchett said at the Oscars? Well, no matter how much money women make, there was almost five male protagonists for every female one in 2013.

new study from the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film shows that among last year's 100 top-grossing films, women represent a total of 30% of characters, 29% of speaking parts and just 15% of protagonists/leads. That crappy 15% is still up from 11% in 2011, but down 1 point from 2002. So in 11 years, the number of female protagonists has gone down. 

(The study notes that another 14% of films are led by male/female ensembles.)

Wonder why you only see movies about men? Why the multiplex is full of superheroes? Why male role models dominate our airwaves? It's because men make up 71% of all protagonists. 

The study's author Martha Lauzen sent this comment by email:

Overall, we have seen little movement in the numbers of female protagonists and the numbers of females as speaking characters over the last decade. Moreover, female characters are less likely than males to have identifiable goals or to be portrayed as leaders of any kind.

But let's remember: movies with female protagonists make 20% more money. There is just a huge disconnect at work here.

Here is some other bad news from the study:

-- Women are younger than men onscreen. The majority of women on screen are in their 20s and 30s, while men are in their 30s and 40s. Males over 40 make up 55% of all male characters, while females over 40 make up 30% of all characters.

-- 78% of male characters have definable occupations compared with 60% of female characters, and more men are seen in the workplace.

-- 73% of female characters are white. African-American characters make up 14%, Latinas 5%, Asian 3%; otherworldly 3%; and other 2%. 

-- 17% of all characters are leaders, but of those characters 21% were men and 8% were women.

This article is related to: Statistics, Research