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Oscar Gender Gap: Male Leads in Best Picture Nominees Have Twice as Much Screen Time

Male stars of nominees from 2006 to 2017 appeared on screen 43 percent of time compared to 23 percent for female leads, according to St. Lawrence University statisticians

In the latest sign of the gender gap in Hollywood, a new study by statisticians at New York’s St. Lawrence University found that male leads of Oscar Best Picture nominees for the last 12 years had twice as much screen time as their female counterparts.

The male stars of nominated films from 2006 to 2017 appeared on screen an average of 43 percent of the film’s running time, compared to 22 percent for female leads in those films, according to the report by St. Lawrence statistics professor Michael Schuckers and Bailey O’Keeffe.

O’Keeffe, a 2016 graduate of St. Lawrence, noted that the Academy often favors movies with male and typically white characters — although recent nominees like “Room,” “Brooklyn” and this year’s “Hidden Figures” have featured strong female leads.

The St. Lawrence team noted that films directed by women showed less of a gap — with male leads on screen 31 percent of the time and female leads appearing 30 percent of the time.

Although Kathryn Bigelow directed both  2010 Best Picture winner  “The Hurt Locker” and 2013 nominee “Zero Dark Thirty,” only 9 percent of the directors from the other films from these 12 years were women and several of them were co-directors with men.

“Perhaps then the key to increasing female representation on screen — and thus character depth — is to hire more female directors who are more likely to distribute screen time evenly between male and female leads since most male directors seem to only be reinforcing this significant gender gap,” O’Keeffe said.

Schuckers and his team adjusted for factors like budget, genre and critical appeal but still found that the percentage of screen time for female leads had a negative impact on the odds the film would win Best Picture.

The St. Lawrence researchers viewed a total of 92 films and manually recorded the amount of time lead actors and actresses were on the screen.

Leads were determined by raw minutes seen on screen (in any form, including the appearance of hands, face or arms) so those performers billed as leads may not have necessarily had the most time on screen and were not included in the data.