It’s a Man’s (Celluloid) World, Even in a Pandemic Year: Portrayals of Female Characters in the Top U.S. Films of 2021

It’s a Man’s (Celluloid) World, Even in a Pandemic Year:  Portrayals of Female Characters in the Top U.S. Films of 2021

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In the second box office year impacted by the pandemic, female characters accounted for 35% of major characters in the top 100 grossing films, down 3 percentage points from 38% in 2020 and 2 percentage points from 37% in 2019.  Females comprised 34% of all speaking characters, down 2 percentage points from 36% in 2020 but even with the percentage in 2019.  The percentage of films featuring female protagonists increased slightly from 29% in 2020 to 31% in 2021.  This remained well below the 40% achieved in 2019 but is even with the percentage reached in 2018.  85% of films featured more male than female characters.  Only 7% of films had more female than male characters, and 8% of films featured equal numbers of female and male characters.  Regarding race and ethnicity, the percentage of Black females in major roles increased from 13.2% in 2020 to 16.4% in 2021.  The percentage of major Latina characters doubled, rising from 5.7% in 2020 to 12.8% in 2021.  The percentage of major Asian and Asian American females increased from 5.7% in 2020 to 10.0% in 2021.  It should be noted that when films centered on Latina or Asian and Asian American characters were excluded from the analysis, the percentages of these characters reverted to 2020 levels, suggesting that the increases are largely due to their presence in a handful of films, rather than their integration in a wide variety of films.  In 2021, the most foundational gender stereotypes lingered.  Female characters were younger than their male counterparts, and more likely to have a known marital status.  Male characters were more likely than females to have an identifiable occupation.  Girls and women were more likely to have personal life-related roles and goals, whereas boys and men were more likely to have work-related roles, as well as anti-social goals, such as violence and crime.  Films with at least one woman director and/or writer were more likely than films with no women in these roles to feature higher percentages of females as protagonists, in major roles, and as speaking characters.  This year’s report also considers portrayals of girls and women in recently released films included on the Digital Entertainment Group’s Watched at Home List.

The Celluloid Ceiling in a Pandemic Year: Employment of Women on the Top U.S. Films of 2021

The Celluloid Ceiling in a Pandemic Year: Employment of Women on the Top U.S. Films of 2021

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After reaching historic highs in 2020, the percentages of women directing top grossing films declined in 2021.  Women comprised 17% of directors working on the 250 top grossing films in 2021, down from 18% in 2020.  The percentage of women working as directors on the top 100 films retreated from 16% in 2020 to 12% in 2021.  Overall, women accounted for 25% of those working in key behind-the-scenes roles (directors, writers, executive producers, producers, editors, cinematographers) on the top 250 grossing films in 2021, up from 23% in 2020.  The rise in the overall number is due to increases in the percentages of women working as executive producers and producers. By role, women accounted for 17% of writers (even with 17% in 2020), 26% of executive producers (up from 21% in 2020), 32% of producers (up from 30% in 2020), 22% of editors (even with 22% in 2020), and 6% of cinematographers (even with 6% in 2020).  For the second consecutive year, the study also tracked women’s employment on films included on the Digital Entertainment Group’s “Watched at Home” list from January through December 2021.  This analysis found that the majority of the percentages of women working on films on the watched at home list were slightly below those calculated using the box office grosses list.

Boxed In: Women On Screen and Behind the Scenes on Broadcast and Streaming Television in 2020-21

Boxed In: Women On Screen and Behind the Scenes on Broadcast and Streaming Television in 2020-21

In 2020-21, females comprised 52% of major characters appearing on streaming programs but 45% on broadcast network programs.  Programs on streaming services also had substantially higher percentages of women working as creators, directors, and editors than broadcast programs.  Women accounted for 30% of creators, 31% of directors, and 24% of editors on streaming programs but 22% of creators, 19% of directors, and 15% of editors on broadcast network programs.  While broadcast network programs featured slightly higher percentages of Black female (23%) and Latina (8%) characters in speaking roles than those on streaming services (20% and 6%, respectively), streaming programs included a slightly higher percentage of Asian female characters than those on the broadcast networks (11% vs. 9%).  The study also found that programs with at least one woman creator featured more female characters in speaking and major roles than programs with exclusively male creators.  In addition, programs with women creators employed higher percentages of women as directors, writers, and editors.