The Center for the Study of Women in Television in Film has released this year's It's a Man's (Celluloid) World 2017 report. This study examines the representation and portrayal of female characters in the 100 top grossing films every year. This latest edition considers portrayals in 2017.
Last year, females comprised 24% of protagonists in the 100 top grossing films, 37% of major characters, and 34% of all speaking characters (major and minor). This represents a decline of 5 percentage points from 29% in 2016.
Figure 1. Percentages of Females, Males, and Ensembles as Protagonists
Male characters continue to dominate on the big screen. While only 32% of films featured 10 or more female characters in speaking roles last year, 79% had 10 or more male characters. Sole female protagonists were much more likely to appear in independent features (65%) than studio features (35%). Sole male protagonists were more likely to appear in studio features than in independent features (54% and 46% respectively). Ensemble protagonists were substantially more likely to appear in studio features than in independent features (71% and 29% respectively).
Regarding race and ethnicity, the percentages of female characters of color reached historic highs in 2017. The percentage of Black females increased from 14% in 2016 to 16% in 2017. The percentage of Latinas more than doubled from 3% in 2016 to 7% in 2017, and the percentage of Asian females increased from 6% in 2016 to 7% in 2017. 68% of all female characters were White in 2017. This represents a decline of 8 percentage points from 76% in 2016.
Figure 2. Comparison of Race/Ethnicity for Female and Male Characters
Studies in narrative content and character goals were also conducted. Male characters were more likely than females to have work-related goals (42% vs. 34%). Female characters were more likely than males to have goals related to their personal lives (20% vs. 13%). Male characters were more likely than females to be seen in work-related roles only (65% vs. 44%). Female characters were more likely than males to be seen in personal life-related roles only (39% vs. 21%).
Figure 3. Comparison of Female and Male Characters Portrayed as Leaders
The study also covered the effects of having female behind-the-scenes employees. In films with at least one woman director and/or writer, females comprised 45% of protagonists. In films with exclusively male directors and/or writers, females accounted for 20% of protagonists. In films with at least one woman director and/or writer, females comprised 48% of major characters. In films with exclusively male directors and/or writers, females accounted for 33% of major characters. In films with at least one woman director and/or writer, females comprised 42% of all speaking characters. In films with exclusively male directors and/or writers, females accounted for 32% of all speaking characters.
Figure 4. Comparison of Representation of Female Characters in Films with At Least One Woman Director and/or Writer and Films with Exclusively Male Directors and/or Writers
Figures based on top grossing films as rated by Box Office Mojo on January 2, 2018.
Report compiled by Dr. Martha M. Lauzen, Executive Director, Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, San Diego State University.
Read the full study.
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NYWIFT programs, screenings and events are supported, in part, by grants from New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.
Last updated: Mar. 2, 2018