Nearly Half of Child Movie Roles Are Girls Now, Study Shows

But girls in minority groups are still being underrepresented

A new study has found that the percentage of child-speaking roles in film that are taken by girls and female teens reached parity last year at 48 percent.

The study – which was conducted by Dr. Stacy L. Smith and the Media, Diversity, & Social Change Initiative at the University of Southern California — examined 900 top films from 2007 to 2016 (excluding 2011), analyzing 4,730 younger characters for demographics, disability and hypersexualization. With a specific analysis on how women were depicted in the top 200 films of 2015 and 2016, the study found that 48.2 percent of underage roles in 2016 were female, compared to 42.2 percent in 2015 and 33.4 percent in 2014.

“Young people spend critical hours each day learning from media, and this report shines a light on the messages that film can convey to them,” said USC Annenberg School of Communication & Journalism, Dean Willow Bay. “It also shows why we must continue to provide young girls and young women with new stories, role models and opportunities to become leaders and to create real change.”

But while overall progress has been made for girls in film, minorities are still underrepresented, as 77 percent of the roles analyzed in the study were held by white actresses, and only four of the roles involved LGBT characters.

The study also explored how these characters were depicted, and found that many of the teenage characters’ main focus was on sexualization, romance and domesticity. Smith believes that one factor in this may be that the actresses who play these roles tend to be older than the characters themselves, as over half of the teen characters in films from 2015-16 were played by actresses whose ages did not match.

In addition, 93 percent of all characters examined were shown doing stereotypical female chores, and 52 percent had a love interest. By contrast, only 31 percent of school-age characters were shown doing homework, and only 12 percent were shown taking part in science, technology, engineering or math activities.

“Girls of today are dynamic and diverse,” said Dr. Smith. “The entertainment industry continues to tell stories that bear little resemblance to the reality of today’s girls and young women. Where are their intellectual pursuits? Their interest in STEM? Their desire for justice and equality? Those passions are not being shown with frequency in popular movies.”