Females made up 29% of protagonists and 37% of major characters in the 100 top-grossing movies of 2016 — up 7 and 3 percentage points, respectively, from the previous year to recent historic highs, a new study finds. But the number of female speaking characters dipped to 32%, meaning moviegoers were twice as likely to see a male character speaking onscreen.
The latest study from the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University (read it here) showed mixed results for female characters of color in last year’s top films. The percentage of Asian females doubled from 3% in 2015 to 6%, black female characters increased slightly from 13% in 2015 to 14%, and Latina characters dipped slightly from 4% in 2015 to 3% in 2016.
Titled “It’s a Man’s (Celluloid) World: Portrayals of Female Characters in the Top 100 Films of 2016,” the study by SDSU’s Dr. Martha Laucen looked at 2,595 characters. It also found that gender stereotypes remained prominent in the films considered. Female characters were less likely than males to be seen at work, actually working, and were less likely to be portrayed as leaders. Female characters also were younger than their male counterparts: The majority of female characters were in their 20s (23%) and 30s (32%), whereas most male characters were in their 30s (31%) and 40s (30%).
Female protagonists were most likely to appear in comedies (28%), followed by dramas (24%), horror films (17%), animated features (14%), sci-fi films (14%) and action films (3%). In movies with at least one female director and/or writer, females comprised 57% of protagonists; the number falls to 18% in pics with exclusively male directors and/or writers.