A new film industry analysis found that the percentage of women as major characters and in speaking roles ticked up between 2019 and 2020 – though ageism in Hollywood is still pervasive.
That’s according to the annual “It’s a Man’s (Celluloid) World” report from Martha Lauzen, executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University.
“We see a handful of mature female actresses and assume that ageism has declined in Hollywood. But unless your last name happens to be Streep or McDormand, chances are you’re not working much in film,” Lauzen said in a statement accompanying the report. “The tendency to feature younger female characters in films emphasizes the value of their youth and appearance at the expense of allowing females to age into positions of personal and professional power.”
The percentage of major female characters in movies last year grew from 37% in 2019 to 38% in 2020. Those with speaking roles grew from 34% in 2019 to 36% in 2020. Despite these increases, the percentage of female protagonists in films fell from 40% in 2019 to only 29% in 2020, after this metric had risen the last two years.
Overall, female characters were younger than males, according to the study. While most female characters were in their 20s and 30s, most men were in their 30s and 40s.
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The percentage of female characters in their 30s was 29% compared to 16% in their 40s. The percentage of male characters in their 30s was 31% and only fell to 28% in their 40s.
Ten percent of movies last year included male characters 60 and older; only 6% included female characters 60 and older.
A new film industry analysis found that the percentage of women as major characters and in speaking roles both ticked up between 2019 and 2020; Carey Mulligan, pictured here, starred in last year's "Promising Young Woman." (Photo: Focus Features)
Every iteration of the study for more than a decade has found that female characters are much younger than male ones.
The study examined more than 1,700 characters across the 100 top domestic grossing films of 2020. While last year saw a lack of theatrical releases due to the pandemic, Lauzen told USA TODAY the study has approached the data this way since 2002 and opted to stay consistent.
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Breaking the numbers down further in terms of race and ethnicity, the number of Black females in speaking roles dipped from 20% in 2019 to 17% in 2020. Representation for Asian women also fell, from 7% in 2019 to 6% in 2020. For Latinas, this number grew from 5% in 2019 to 6% in 2020.
The report follows an analysis of behind-the-scenes women in film released at the end of last year, which showed that the percentage of women working on top-grossing films hadn’t budged much over the last two decades – despite many a pledge to change the industry.
Overall, the percentage of female directors, writers, executive producers, producers, cinematographers on staff of top-grossing films was 21% in 2019, up from 17% in 1998.
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