New Study Finds Family Films Have Twice as Many Males as Female Characters
A recent study on family films found that female lead characters do the best at the box office, but male protagonists still outnumber them 2 to 1.
One of the key findings in a new report from the Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media, says there are more males than females in family films. The report looked at diversity in the top 100 highest-grossing family films (both animated and non-animated) released between 2007 and 2017.
According to the study, a strong disparity persists between characters seen on the big screen and the young people in the audience.
In its analysis of more than 1,000 characters from a decade of family films (all rated G, PG or PG-13), the Geena Davis Institute also looked at the number of leads or co-leads who were female, people of color, LGBTQIA-identified or were physically or cognitively disabled. The report found that none of these groups were represented in a way that reflects their prevalence in the U.S. population.
For example, women represent 51 percent of the population (and 50 percent of moviegoers), but male characters appear twice as often as female characters in family films. People of color are 39 percent of the U.S. population (and 49 percent of moviegoers, according to the Motion Picture Association of America), yet less than 17 percent of lead characters in the films studied were people of color. Of those nonwhite characters, fewer than a third were female.
Representation is even worse for LGBTQIA people and people with disabilities. These groups comprise 3.4 percent and 18.7 percent of the U.S. population, respectively. But of the characters studied, less than 1 percent were identified as members of either group.
The Geena Davis Institute was founded by the Thelma & Louise actress 12 years ago to study the depiction of men and women in children’s media and to advocate for better representation.
“Movies do more than inspire us; they promote acceptance and awareness of people’s identities,” Academy Award-winning actor and founder Davis said in a press statement tied to the new report. “When the stories we tell don’t reflect the intersectionality in our society, children learn that people of marginalized identities simply matter less in our culture.”
In terms of gender, it’s likely that boys and men identify more with stories that involve male protagonists instead of female ones. Historically, girls and women have grown up with more male-centric stories due to their prevalence in our culture so far, therefore they are more receptive to watching a movie even if it doesn’t feature more female characters.
Hollywood responds to this audience preference, sensing that male characters are a safer bet to maximize commercial viability.
If we want to undo this bias in representation, it will have to be a gradual process of fostering inclusion without coming off as pedantic or forced. For example, Hollywood has been met with mixed responses in their attempts to remake classic films with female actors filling roles that were originally played by males.
Regardless, there were some positive trends in the new report, including marginal increases in the number of leads of color and female leads over the decade.
Researchers also found that since 2016, films led by female characters have surpassed the revenue of films with male leads at the global box office. And in 2017 family films starring leads of color out-earned similar films with white leads by 14 percent.