Men outnumbered women by almost two to one in 2021 Hollywood films and outnumbered women in 85% of all films released that year, a San Diego State University researcher said in an annual report Tuesday.
Martha Lauzen, founder and executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at SDSU, found that even a pandemic year was not enough to break trends in a male-dominated film industry. Her report, “It’s a Man’s (Celluloid) World,” says just 31% of films released in 2021 featured a sole female protagonist. Female characters accounted for 35% of major characters, down 3% from 2020 and 2% from 2019.
“Despite the major disruptions in the film business over the last couple of years, on-screen gender ratios have remained relatively stable,” Lauzen said. “Last year audiences saw almost two male characters for every female character, and although women protagonists led some of the most high- profile films including “Spencer,” “Being the Ricardos,” and “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” women comprised slightly less than one third of sole protagonists last year.
Females comprised 34% of all speaking characters, down 2% from 2020 but even with 2019.
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, Black females comprised 16.4% of all major female characters in 2021, up from 13.2% in 2020. The percentage of major Latina characters more than 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% in 2021.
However, Lauzen said, when films centered on Latina and Latino characters — including “Encanto,” “In the Heights,” “West Side Story,” “Spirit Untamed,” and “Cry Macho” — were excluded from the analysis, the percentage of Latinas in major roles fell from 12.8% to 5.3%, slightly below the 5.7% achieved in 2020.
Similarly, when films centered on Asians and Asian American characters — including “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” “Mortal Kombat,” “Minari,” and “Raya and the Last Dragon” — were excluded from the analysis, the percentage of Asian and Asian American females in major roles declined from 10% to 6.7%, slightly above the 5.7% achieved in 2020.
“These findings suggest that the increase sin Latinas and Asian and Asian American females in major roles are largely due to their presence in a handful of films, rather than their integration in a wide variety of films,” Lauzen said.
In 2021, female characters were younger than their male counterparts, and more likely to have a known marital status, she said. 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.
Overall, the project has considered the representation of over 25,000 characters appearing in more than 1,100 films released between 2002 and 2021.
Lauzen has conducted research on the representation and employment of women on screen and behind the scenes in film and television for two decades.
–City News Service, Inc.