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It’s a Man’s (Celluloid) World: Portrayals of Female Characters in the Top Grossing U.S. Films of 2020

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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%).

The Celluloid Ceiling: Behind-the-Scenes Employment of Women on the Top U.S. Films of 2020

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For the second consecutive year, the percentages of women directing top grossing films increased, reaching recent historic highs, while the overall percentages of women working in key behind-the-scenes roles remained relatively stable.  Women comprised 16% of directors working on the top 100 grossing films in 2020, up from 12% in 2019 and 4% in 2018.  Women accounted for 18% of directors on the top 250 films, up from 13% in 2019 and 8% in 2018.  In 2020, the percentages of behind-the-scenes women working on the top 100 and 250 (domestic) grossing films inched upward.  Women comprised 21% of all directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers working on the top 100 grossing films, up from 20% in 2019.  Women working in these roles on the top 250 grossing films experienced a slight increase from 21% in 2019 to 23% in 2020.  By role, women accounted for 18% of directors, 17% of writers, 21% of executive producers, 30% of producers, 22% of editors, and 6% of cinematographers working on the top 250 grossing films.  In 2020, the majority of films (67%) employed 0 to 4 women in the roles considered.  24% of films employed 5 to 9 women, and 9% employed 10 or more women.  In contrast, 5% of films employed 0 to 4 men in the roles considered, 24% employed 5 to 9 men, and the remaining majority (71%) employed 10 or more men.  Due to the interruption caused by COVID-19 in theatrical box office grosses, this year’s study also tracked women’s employment on films included on DEG’s “Watched at Home” list.

Living Archive: The Celluloid Ceiling

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Since 1998, the annual Celluloid Ceiling study has tracked women’s employment in the core crafts of filmmaking, including directing, writing, producing, editing, and cinematography.  For the first time, the Living Archive makes the findings from every year of the study available.  The takeaway from this report is that despite the countless panels, repeated calls for voluntary programs, and promises of change, the percentages of women have remained relatively stable in the majority of the roles considered.  The percentage of women cinematographers remained virtually unchanged over the 22 years of the study (4% in 1998, 5% in 2019).  The percentage of women working as producers climbed just 3 percentage points, from 24% in 1998 to 27% in 2019, with similar increases for executive producers (18% in 1998 to 21% in 2019), and editors (20% in 1998 to 23% in 2019).  The percentage of women directors rose a scant 4 percentage points, from 9% in 1998 to 13% in 2019.  Women writers experienced the largest gains, with their percentage rising 6 points from 13% in 1998 to 19% in 2019.

Indie Women: Behind-the-Scenes Employment of Women in Independent Film 2019-2020

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The percentages of women working as directors and writers on independent films continue to climb, reaching recent historic highs in 2019-2020.  Women comprised 38% of directors working on narrative features and documentaries, up from 33% in 2018-19 and 29% in 2017-18.  Women accounted for 35% of writers, up from 32% in 2018-19 and 26% in 2017-18.   Overall, men accounted for 66% and women 34% of all directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers working on films selected and/or screened at the festivals in 2019-2020.  Documentaries continue to offer more opportunities for women than narrative features.  Women comprised 40% of those working in key behind-the-scenes roles on documentaries but only 29% of those working on narrative features.  In addition, whereas the festivals selected and/or screened twice as many narrative features directed by men as by women, they selected and/or screened almost equal numbers of documentaries directed by men as by women.  The study provides employment figures for domestically and independently produced feature-length documentaries and narrative films selected and/or screening from July 2019 through June 2020 at more than 20 high-profile festivals in the U.S., including SXSW, AFI, and the New York Film Festival.  Indie Women is the most comprehensive and longest running study of women working in independent film available and has tracked over 88,000 credits on almost 9,000 films over the period of 2008 to 2020.

Boxed In 2019-20: Women On Screen and Behind the Scenes in Television

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In 2019-20, original programs appearing on streaming services featured substantially more female protagonists than programs on cable channels or broadcast networks.  By platform, 42% of streaming programs had clearly identifiable sole female protagonists, 27% of cable programs and 24% of broadcast programs featured female protagonists.  Women also reached historic highs as creators, directors, writers, executive producers, producers, editors, and directors of photography on streaming programs.  The gains made by women working as directors and directors of photography on streaming programs were particularly impressive.  The percentage of women working as directors soared from 15% in 2018-19 to 32% in 2019-20.  The percentage of women working as directors of photography rose from 3% in 2018-19 to 17% in 2019-20.  Regarding race and ethnicity, across platforms the percentage of Black female characters increased slightly (from 17% in 2018-19 to 20% in 2019-20), the percentage of Asian females increased slightly (from 7% in 2018-19 to 8% in 2019-20), and the percentage of Latinas decreased slightly (from 6% in 2018-19 to 5% in 2019-20).

Thumbs Down 2020: Film Critics and Gender, and Why It Matters

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First conducted in 2007, Thumbs Down is the most comprehensive and longest-running study of women’s representation and impact as film reviewers available.  The report considers individuals working for print, broadcast, and online outlets in the U.S. during January through March 2020.   This year’s study finds that men continue to outnumber women as film reviewers by almost 2 to 1.  Men comprised 65% and women 35% of reviewers.  Further, male reviewers outnumber females in every job title category and nearly every type of media outlet.  In turn, the data shows that female-driven films and films directed by women make up a smaller proportion of men’s reviews than women’s reviews.  The study also found that female and male reviewers of color remain dramatically underrepresented.  70% of female reviewers are white, 23% are women of color, and 7% have an unknown racial/ethnic identity.  73% of male reviewers are white, 18% are men of color, and 9% have an unknown racial/ethnic identity.

The Celluloid Ceiling II: Production Design, Production Management, Sound Design, Key Grips, and Gaffers

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For over a decade, The Celluloid Ceiling study has tracked women’s representation as directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers on the top 250 domestic grossing films. In an effort to assess the larger picture of women’s employment in film, this study monitored their representation as production designers (20%), production managers/production supervisors (25%/44%), sound designers/supervising sound editors (5%/5%), key grips (1%), and gaffers (1%).

The study analyzed behind-the-scenes employment of 1,318 individuals working on the top 250 domestic grossing films of 2008 with combined box office grosses of approximately $9.4 billion.

Women @ the Box Office

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This study asked two basic questions: how do films with at least one woman working in a key behind-the-scenes role fare at the box office when compared to those employing only men in the same roles, and how do films featuring female protagonists fare at the box office when compared to those featuring males.

Examining the top 100 worldwide grossing films of 2007, the study found that when women and men filmmakers have similar budgets for their films, the resulting box office grosses are also similar. In other words, the sex of filmmakers does not determine box office grosses.

In addition, when the size of the budget is held constant, films with female protagonists or prominent females in an ensemble cast earn similar box office grosses (domestic, international, opening weekend) and DVD sales as films with male protagonists. Because films featuring male protagonists have larger budgets, they earn larger box office grosses. However, the differences in box office grosses are not caused by the sex of the protagonist but by the size of the budget. Films with larger budgets generate larger grosses, regardless of the sex of the protagonist.