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


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.