Hollywood’s Glass Ceiling Remains in Place: Infinitesimal Increase in Movies With Female Protagonists (2023)

Viola Davis, Michelle Yeoh and Jenna Ortega may have topped the box office and won rave reviews in the likes of “The Woman King,” “Everything Everywhere All at Once” and “Scream,” but Hollywood still tended to bank on movies with male leads in 2022.

A new survey of the top 100 grossing domestic releases found that women only accounted for 33% of movie protagonists last year. That represented an infinitesimal two percentage point increase from 2021, according to the report by theCenter for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University. And don’t expect actresses to get as many lines as their male counterparts. Females accounted for 37% of all speaking characters in 2022, up 3 percentage points from 34% in 2021.Men had 63% of speaking roles, and 0.1% of speaking characters were transgender. One speaking character was non-binary.

Moreover, a whopping 80% of films featured more male than female characters. Only 11% of films had more female than male characters, and 9% of films featured equal numbers of female and male characters. Of those female speaking characters, 64% were white, 18% were Black, 7% were Latina and 8% were Asian.

Don’t expect those women on screen to be seen in the workplace. A larger percentage of male characters (84%) had an identifiable job than female characters (68%). Women in movies were also more likely to reveal whether they had a husband or wife: 46% of female characters had an identifiable marital status compared to 36% of male characters.

And Hollywood remained youth-obsessed, at least when it came to casting female roles. Women were also younger than men in movies. Thirty six percent of female characters were in their 30s, but only 14% were in their 40s. The percentage of female characters in their 40s was actually lower in 2022 than in 2015 (20%). Just 7% of female character were over 60.

“Age is not just an employment issue for actors,” said Dr. Martha M. Lauzen, the report’s author and the director of theCenter for the Study of Women in Television and Film. “When female characters are relatively young, they are less likely toholdpositions of great personal or professional power. Viola Davis and [‘Tar’s’] CateBlanchett are superb actors but they are also convincing, at least in part, because they have achievedthegravitas andlife experienceneeded to play those roles.”

A lot depends on the gender of the person calling “action.” In films with at least one woman director and/of writer, women comprised 56% of protagonists. In films with exclusively male directors and/or writers, females accounted for 23% of protagonists.

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