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Females Grossly Underrepresented and Misrepresented in Top Grossing Films of 2011

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by Melissa Silverstein
May 15, 2012 1:03 PM
5 Comments
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It’s a Man’s (Celluloid) World:  On-Screen Representations of Female Characters in the Top 100 Films of 2011
by Martha M. Lauzen, Ph.D.
Copyright  ©  2012 – All rights reserved.

In 2011, females remained dramatically under-represented as characters in film when compared with their representation in the U.S. population.  Last year, females accounted for 33% of all characters in the top 100 domestic grossing films.  This represents an increase of 5 percentage points since 2002 when females comprised 28% of characters.

While the percentage of female characters has increased over the last decade, the percentage of female protagonists has declined.  In 2002, female characters accounted for 16% of protagonists.  In 2011, females comprised only 11% of protagonists.

Female characters remain younger than their male counterparts and are more likely than males to have an identifiable marital status.  Further, female characters are much less likely than males to be portrayed as leaders of any kind.  This can be partially explained by the tendency to feature female characters under the age of 40.

Findings

  • Only 11% of all clearly identifiable protagonists are female, 78% are male, and 11% are male/female ensembles.
  • Male characters are much more likely than females to be portrayed as leaders.  Overall, male characters account for 86% and females 14% of leaders.  Broken down by type of leader, males comprise 93% of political and government leaders, 92% of religious leaders, 83% of business leaders , 73% of social leaders, and 70% of scientific and intellectual leaders.
  • Female characters are younger than their male counterparts.  The majority of female characters are in their 20s (27%) and 30s (28%).  The majority of male characters are in their 30s (29%) and 40s (25%).   These percentages are similar to those collected in 2002.
  • Males 40 and over account for 50% of all male characters.  Females 40 and over comprise 25% of all female characters.
  • 4% of all female characters are 60 or older.   8% of all male characters are 60 or older.
  • 73% of all female characters are Caucasian, followed by African American (8%), Latina (5%), Asian (5%), other worldly (4%), animals (3%), and other (1%).  Moviegoers are almost as likely to see an extra-terrestrial female as they are to see a Latina or Asian female character.
  • The percentage of African-American females declined precipitously from 15% in 2002 to 8% in 2011.
  • The percentage of Latina females increased by one percentage point over the last decade, from 4% in 2002 to 5% in 2011. 
  • The percentage of Asian females increased 2 percentage points, from 3% in 2002 to 5% in 2011.
  • For comparison, 69% of male characters are Caucasian, followed by other worldly (9%), African American (8%), Latino (5%), animals (5%), Asian (3%), and other (1%). 
  • Male characters are more likely than female characters to be identified by their occupational status.  33% of female characters have unknown occupational status versus 19% of male characters.  
  • Female characters are more likely than male characters to be identified by their marital status.  60% of male characters have unknown marital status versus 41% of female characters. 
  • When occupational status is known, female characters are most likely to be in out-of-workforce positions such as homemaker or student (22%), followed by white collar positions (15%), and blue collar positions (13%).  Male characters are most likely to hold white collar positions (22%) and blue collar positions (22%).

Report compiled by Dr. Martha M. Lauzen, Executive Director, Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, San Diego State University, San Diego, CA  92182, 619.594.6301

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5 Comments

  • Bes | May 17, 2012 5:07 PMReply

    "when a woman's occupation is identified 22% of the time the woman is identified as being out of the workforce"

    Probably at least 50% of the time a woman's occupation is identified she is a sex trade worker.

  • Margaret | May 16, 2012 4:42 PMReply

    I just wrote a great review about The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. It's great because it breaks down steroetypes about gender, culture, and age. The film stars some of the greatest female power-houses of all time on the big screen, Dames Judi Dench and Maggie Smith. I hope you'll check out my blog and let me know what you think about them!
    margaretperrymovies.blogspot.com
    thegreatkh.blogspot.com

  • Dyan Kane | May 15, 2012 9:03 PMReply

    We have come along way, but many miles to go B4 we sleep. We must write/produce/direct our selves in true to real life roles and stories. Period.

  • Emma K. Harr | May 15, 2012 8:54 PMReply

    I agree with Mr. Medeiros--we've got to start creating out own work. More women need to join forces on the creative side--writing, directing, producing. I'm so ready to see real women characters with stories that matter, that make me want to watch them. Same goes for plays. As an actor who is also a director and aspiring playwright, I'm taking it upon myself to write what I want to see on stage. I'm even teaching a class about this very idea of women being underrepresented at my acting studio. I have girls from age 9 to 14. And I'll be damned if they aren't the next amazing generation of industry experts, too.

  • Michael Medeiros | May 15, 2012 2:49 PMReply

    There is only one antidote for this absurdity. Write, produce direct the characters you want to see. In Tiger Lily Road, 4 of the 6 leads are women. www.BennettParkFilms.com

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