Female Actors Reach “Historic Highs” on Broadcast and Streaming Shows, But Women Lag in Behind-the-Scenes Jobs, Study Finds
- In Deadline Hollywood
- By David Robb
- September 14, 2021
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.
Documentary films continued to employ higher percentages of behind-the-scenes women than narrative features in 2020-21. Women accounted for 42% of individuals working as directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers on documentaries versus 35% of those working on narrative features streaming/screening at 20 high-profile film festivals in the U.S. Moreover, the fests streamed/screened almost equal numbers of documentaries directed by women (an average of 7) as by men (an average of 8). Festivals screened an average of 6 narrative features directed by at least one woman versus an average of 9 narrative features directed exclusively by men. In every behind-the-scenes role but one (writers), documentaries employed higher percentages of women than narrative features. The study provides employment figures for domestically and independently produced feature-length documentaries and narrative films streaming/screening from July 2020 through June 2021 at U.S. festivals including SXSW, AFI, and the New York Film Festival. It is the most comprehensive and longest running study of women working in U.S. independent film available and has tracked over 95,400 credits on more than 9,500 films over the period of 2008 to 2021.
The percentage of top grossing films with female protagonists dropped dramatically from 40% in 2019 to 29% in 2020. 49% of films featured male protagonists, and 22% had ensembles. The percentages of major female characters and those in speaking roles remained relatively stable. The percentage of major female characters rose from 37% in 2019 to 38% in 2020. The percentage of female characters in speaking roles climbed from 34% in 2019 to 36% in 2020. Regarding race and ethnicity, the percentage of Black females in speaking roles declined from 20% in 2019 to 17% in 2020. The percentage of Latinas increased slightly from 5% in 2019 to 6% in 2020. The percentage of Asian females declined from 7% in 2019 to 6% in 2020. Female characters remained younger than their male counterparts, dramatically declining in number when they reached their 40s. The percentage of female characters dropped from 29% in their 30s to 16% in their 40s. The percentage of male characters only declined slightly from 31% in their 30s to 28% in their 40s. Further, films in 2020 featured almost twice as many male characters 60 and older as female characters (10% vs. 6%).