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Less than 30% of speaking characters in film are female – study

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A new study from the Media, Diversity, & Social Change Initiative at USC Annenberg reveals that less than a third of all speaking characters are female across six years and 600 films.  In 2013, females represented just 29.2% of all speaking characters.

The researchers assessed every character who spoke one or more words on screen—over 25,000 characters in all from the top grossing films released in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012, and 2013.  The report is the largest, most comprehensive analysis of gender prevalence in recent film to date.

“Our findings this year are both familiar and phenomenal,”

said USC Annenberg Professor Stacy L. Smith, author of the study and founding director of the Initiative.

“Female characters are consistently underrepresented in the most popular films each year.  However, there are reasons to believe that Hollywood can and does change.”

One positive finding is that women were most likely to be seen in comedy films, where 36% of characters were female in 2007, 2010, and 2013.

“Women like Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Kristin Wiig, and Melissa McCarthy are true trailblazers and just a few of the reasons that women are making strides in comic films,”

said Professor Smith.

Two other genres stood out to the researchers as areas that need improvement.

“Activists and advocates should take aim at action/adventure and animation films.”

These genres featured the lowest percentages of women.  Less than a quarter of the characters in action/adventure films were female (20-23.9%), and in animation, gains between 2007 and 2010 were balanced out by a drop to 24.6% in 2013.

The report also examines how women are depicted on screen.  Female characters are significantly more likely than male characters to be shown in sexually revealing clothing or partially naked, a trend that has been consistent over the past six years.

But 2013 saw one important change – the reversal of a three-year climb in female teen sexualization on screen.

“Teen female hypersexualization decreased by around 17% in 2013 from a high in 2012,”

said Professor Smith.

“What this reveals more than anything is that the trends we observe are not always stable.  The numbers can change.”

The study also found bad news for women behind the scenes. 2013 represented a six-year low in the presence of women writers and directors. Just two of the 107 directors in 2013 were female, or 1.9%.  The percentages of writers (7.4%) and producers (19.6%) are similarly low.  “We need to move beyond asking the industry to change and find solutions that compel decision-makers to diversify their workforce,” said Marc Choueiti, one of the study authors.

This study is the most recent from the MDSC Initiative, which releases yearly in-depth analyses of the prevalence and portrayal of gender and race/ethnicity in film.  More than 65 students at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism worked on the study, including a team of 17 Harnisch Foundation/MDSC interns.

For more information on the Initiative, or to read previous studies, visit annenberg.usc.edu/MDSCI.

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