Report: Just 15% of lead characters in major movies are female

<i>This post has been corrected. See the note below for details.</i>

It’s a man’s world -- or at least that’s the way it appears on screen.

According to a report released Tuesday by San Diego State University film professor Martha Lauzen, the top 100 grossing films of 2013 were overwhelmingly male. Just 15% of protagonists, 29% of major characters and 30% of all speaking characters were female.

The study looked at more than 2,300 characters in the 2013 films, and the lack of female representation -- on screen and behind the scenes -- has not substantially improved, said Lauzen, who serves as executive director of the SDSU Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film.

“I would say that the film business is in a state of gender inertia,” she told The Times. “If you take a look at the numbers, you see basically we are in the same place we were about a decade ago.”


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For example, in a similar study conducted in 2002, women constituted only 16% of the protagonists in the top 100 films of that year. That’s 1 percentage point higher than in 2013.

“Women comprise 52% of population but make up only 15% of protagonists -- that strikes me as a significant disconnect between the film world and the real world,” Lauzen said.

Some in the industry might counter that male leads only reflect box-office reality -- that male-driven movies make more money. But Lauzen said an earlier study of hers found that when the budgets of films featuring female and male protagonists are equalized, “there is no substantial difference in box office grosses or DVD sales.”

“Differences in earnings are due to differences in the size of budgets, not gender,” said Lauzen, who has looked at 7,000 characters in 300 films since 2002.

Indeed, female protagonists were at the center of recent top-grossing films such as “Gravity,” starring Sandra Bullock”; “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” starring Jennifer Lawrence; and the animated “Frozen,” starring the voices of Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel.


Only 13% of the top 100 films at the box office featured equal numbers of major female and male characters, or featured more female characters than male characters.

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Lauzen said part of the reason why the film industry hasn’t changed is because guilds and studios do not see a problem.

“You don’t look for fixes for things you don’t see as problematic,” she said.

Plus, people don’t pay attention to the numbers. Back in 2010 when Kathryn Bigelow won the Academy Award for directing for her film “The Hurt Locker,” Lauzen said people quickly began forecasting more opportunities for women in film, labeling it “The Bigelow Effect.”

“It’s really easy to be misled by a few high-profile cases,” Lauzen said. “Which is why it’s always important to actually count the number of characters or credits so that the conversation is grounded in what’s actually happening.”

[For the Record, 5:50 p.m. PDT March 11: An earlier version of this post said women made up 1% more protagonists in 2002 compared with 2013. It is 1 percentage point.]



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