In 2021, the representation of women in Hollywood – the “oldest film industry in the world” and the “largest film industry by revenue” – remained dismal, according to a new study.
While the results are hardly surprising – even in the post-#MeToo and post-#TimesUp era – what’s even gloomier is how few Hollywood movies star more women than men per compared to the opposite: 7% against 85%. Movies that had an equal number of male and female actors — a more ideal scenario, perhaps — accounted for just 8% of Hollywood movies in 2021. And the share of movies with non-cis representation, we don’t even know not.
While some high-profile blockbuster films last year had women at the center, the representation is far from proportional, the analysis points out.
Entitled “It’s a man’s world (celluloid)the study was authored by Martha Lauzen, executive director of San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film. It analyzed more than 3,000 characters from the 100 highest-grossing Hollywood films of 2021 in the United States, as well as portrayals of women from Digital Entertainment Group’s “Watched at Home” list, which however does not include releases on Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Disney Plus.
The analysis revealed that the number of female characters who had speaking roles – that is to saywomen who were not entirely relegated to the background, perhaps reducing them to object status — decline: from 34% in 2021 to 36% in 2019. Female actors playing major characters — that is to saycharacters who “appear in more than one scene and are instrumental in telling the story” – also fell from 38% in 2020 to 35% in 2021.
“Last year, audiences saw almost two male characters for every female character, and while female leads led some of the most high-profile films, including spencer, Be the Ricardosand Tammy Faye’s eyeswomen made up just under a third of unique leads last year,” Lauzen noted.
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There was a small silver lining, however: the number of films with unique female leads reached 31% of Hollywood releases in 2021 – a slight increase from 29% in 2020.
When it comes to minority characters as well, the numbers weren’t so great despite an increase in portrayals. “[T]The increase in the number of Latinas and Asian and Asian American women in major roles is largely due to their presence in a handful of films, rather than their inclusion in a wide variety of films,” Lauzen added.
For example, Asian and Asian American characters in major roles fell from 5.7% in 2020 to 10% in 2021. But if movies like Shang-Chi and the legend of the ten rings, mortal combat, minariand Raya and the last dragon were to be excluded from the count, the 10% share in 2021 drops to just 6.7%, which is hardly up from 2020.
This model also shows how, rather than occupying the screen for more uniform representation, minority characters are often restricted to culture-specific films. That individuals from minority communities are scattered all over this globalized world of 2021, and not just confined to certain cocoons, is a fact that bears repeating.
The portrayal of women on screen is an ongoing tug of war faced by different film industries, and while the trend is improving when it comes to female story arcs, the effort needs to be more deliberate and hard-hitting instead. only symbolic.
Lauzen, however, tried to look at the silver lining in the latest finds, saying, “Despite major disruptions in the film industry over the past two years, on-screen gender ratios have remained relatively stable.”
But the question to ask is: as a society, staying stuck in the same place, isn’t that a refusal of progress?