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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

Where Are the Women?: only 22% of 2015’s movies had female protagonists


My Where Are the Women? project, analyzing the films of 2015 for their representation of women, is now finished, and I’ve crunched some numbers.

Get an introduction to this analysis here. You can examine a comprehensive spreadsheet of the details about these 153 films here.

see also:

best and worst representations of women on film in 2015 (and the average WATW score for the year)
critics are slightly more likely to rate a film highly if it represents women well
• mainstream moviegoers are not turned off by films with female protagonists
movies that represent women well are just as likely to be profitable as movies that don’t, and are less risky as business propositions

Here’s how it breaks down for simple, basic representation of women onscreen.

Of 153 wide releases in the US in 2015, only 34 had female protagonists or an ensemble that was primarily female. That’s a smidge over 22 percent… which is disgraceful, given that women account for 51 percent of the population.tweet

A further 23 films — or another 15 percent — had women protagonists sharing the spotlight with male coprotagonists.

And 96 movies — almost 63 percent — feature male protagonists or ensembles that were primarily male.

This is not acceptable.

And how does the percentage of female protagonists jibe with the percentage of films that represent women well? (And just a reminder: “representing women well” does not mean that women are depicted only as noble or somehow perfect, but that women are depicted as fully human, embodying the same kinds of flaws and struggling with the same sorts of problems as men onscreen have to deal with.) The two measures align fairly well:

Only 31 percent of 2015’s films represented women well.tweet

It’s not a perfect aligment. There are films with female protagonists that score poorly on WATW:

(In the chart above, green dots represent movies with female protagonists or primarily female ensembles; blue dot movies with mixed-gender coprotagonists or ensembles; orange dots movies with male protagonists or ensembles. Hover over a dot for the film title and WATW score. Click here to see the chart in a separate zoomable window.)

But we do see that, in general, putting women at the center of stories results in stories that are good at depicting women as people in their own right, with journeys of their own to travel, and not merely as support mechanism for men as they travel their own paths of improvement and enlightenment.

More analysis!

Where Are the Women? was partially supported by a Kickstarter campaign — a HUGE thank-you to my generous Kickstarter supporters — but those funds did not begin to cover all the time, effort, and expense that went into this project.

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