Number of Female Leads in Film Lower Now Than in 2002

Female characters comprised just 12 percent of protagonists in the top 100 grossing films of 2014, according to new study

Male protagonists still far outnumber their female counterparts on-screen, according to a new study.

The 2014 “It’s a Man’s (Celluloid) World” study by San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film shows that female characters made up just 12 percent of protagonists in the top 100 domestic-grossing films of 2014. This figure is three percent below 2013’s study and four percent below the number in 2002.

Broadening the scope a bit, women made up 29 percent of major characters, and 30 percent of all speaking characters, the same percentage as 2013.

Racial diversity among the female roles also saw a dip in certain areas. Black and Latino female roles declined, while Asian female roles saw a slight increase in number. Eleven percent of female characters were black, four percent were Latina, and four percent were Asian.

Furthermore, the types of roles for women left much to be desired. According to the study, most female characters skewed younger than their male counterparts, and they were more likely to be identified by domestic roles like wife, mother and girlfriend.

“The chronic under-representation of girls and women reveals a kind of arrested development in the mainstream film industry,” said Dr. Martha Lauzen, executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at SDSU. “Women are not a niche audience and they are no more ‘risky’ as filmmakers than men. It is unfortunate that these beliefs continue to limit the industry’s relevance in today’s marketplace.”

For the study, 2,300 characters appearing in the top grossing American films of 2014 were analyzed, and comparisons were made to the most recent figures with findings from 2013, 2011 and 2002, for a total of more than 9,000 characters appearing in approximately 400 films.

The onscreen representation seems to reflect women in the industry who work behind the scenes as well. A different study conducted by Lauzen’s team found that women made up only 17 percent of directors, writers, executive producers, producers, editors, and cinematographers who worked on the Top 250 domestic grossing movies of 2014.