Respect Diversity + Inclusion

Over 80 percent of last year’s top films featured more men than women

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Story at a glance

  • About 85 percent of highest-grossing films in 2021 featured more male than female characters, according to this year’s “It’s a Man’s (Celluloid) World” report.
  • Just 7 percent of films had more female than male characters, and roughly 8 percent featured an equal number of female and male characters.
  • While representation among women of color increased, that was linked to a small handful of culturally specific films like “Encanto” and “Minari” and was not representative of a larger industry shift.

Male characters continued to greatly outnumber female characters in the top 100 domestic films of 2021, according to a new report, with just over a third of those films featuring a major female role.

An “astounding” 85 percent of highest-grossing films in 2021 featured more male than female characters, according to this year’s “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.

Just 31 percent of films featured a sole female protagonist, according to the study, which analyzed more than 3,100 characters, up slightly from 29 percent in 2020. Just 7 percent of films had more female than male characters and roughly 8 percent featured an equal number of female and male characters.

Notably, female characters accounted for just 34 percent of all speaking characters, dropping 2 percentage points from 2020 back to 2019 levels.


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“Despite the major disruptions in the film business over the last couple of years, on-screen gender ratios have remained relatively stable,” Lauzen said in a statement. “Last year audiences saw almost 2 male characters for every female character, and although women protagonists led some of the most high-profile films including ‘Spencer,’ ‘Being the Ricardos,’ and ‘The Eyes of Tammy Faye,’ women comprised slightly less than one third of sole protagonists last year.”

Still, representation among women of color increased in 2021, with Black women accounting for 16.4 percent of all major female characters, up from roughly 13 percent in 2020. The percentage of major Latina characters doubled, according to the report, climbing to 12.8 percent in 2021 from just 5.7 percent in 2020.

Asian and Asian American female representation in film also increased last year, accounting for 10 percent of major female characters compared to 5.7 percent in 2020.

But Lauzen in her report noted that representation gains among Latina, Asian and Asian American women can be largely traced back to culturally specific films like “Encanto,” “West Side Story,” “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” and “Minari.”

“These findings suggest that Latinas [and Asian Americans] in major roles were concentrated in a few films, rather than being integrated in a wide variety of films.,” she said.

Lauzen also found that, when those films were excluded from her analysis, the percentage of Latina characters in speaking roles fell to 5.7 percent from 9.5 percent, and the percentage of Asian and Asian American female characters in speaking roles dropped to 5.9 percent from 8.4 percent.

Male representation also plummeted when those films were excluded, and the percentage of Latino characters decreased to 6.1 percent from 8.3 percent, while the percentage of Asian and Asian American male characters fell to 6.4 percent from 8.4 percent.

Gender stereotypes in film also lingered in 2021, according to the report, and female characters were younger and more likely to have a known marital status than males, who were more likely to have an identifiable occupation.

Women and girls were also more likely to have goals related to their personal life, while men and boys were more likely to have work-related goals or demonstrate anti-social behavior like violence.


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