Every week, “Charts & Graphs” looks past the weekend box-office numbers to examine other lists of movies that are popular right now, as assessed by the likes of iTunes, Amazon, Box Office Mojo, and other services.
In all of the debates lately about representations of women in popular culture, one big factor to consider is not just how few women are working behind the scenes to create movies, TV shows, and videogames, but how few women are actually in those movies, shows, and games. Last week, FiveThirtyEight published some of the results of a study from The Media Diversity And Social Change Initiative, who tallied both the number and type of female characters in the 100 highest-grossing movies of 2013. The article contains a lot of data, some of which I’ll get into below. But this is one graph I found particularly revealing:
A few notes:
- As I said, there are other charts in the article that make the whole piece worth reading through, but the most relevant data-point is that in all 100 films that MDSCI looked at, only 29 percent of the characters were female. Breaking that down further, the study found only 16 films out of 100 where there were roughly equal numbers of men and women—y’know, like in the actual world.
- I thought about this report earlier this week when I read Pilot Viruet’s much-passed-around Flavorwire interview with the author of a Nickelodeon oral history, who complained about the channel’s attempts over the years to force diversity into its shows. Alyssa Rosenberg at The Washington Post wrote a great response to that interview, saying that the question, “Why does this character need to be Indian?” should be applied the other way too, and that creators should also ask, “Why does this character need to be white?” (And if they can come up with a good answer to that, they should also start asking questions about class, regionality, and deeper ethnic background.) The lesson from MDSCI’s numbers is that the dominance of male producers (over 80 percent in the study), writers (over 92 percent), and directors (over 98 percent) means that too many of them default their characters to male, apparently needing a special reason to make them otherwise.
- So why comedy? I get why action is so low, and sadly, I understand why animation is so low, too. (The general feeling in the industry is that girls will go see cartoons about boys, but not the other way around.) But what is it about comedy that makes the gender balance closer to ideal? Is it that so many comedies include an element of romance—something not so much of a necessity in action? Please propose some theories in the comments.