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.

If you find Where Are the Women? useful, interesting, or important, please support it now by:

buying some Where Are the Women? merch
becoming a monthly or yearly subscriber of FlickFilospher.com
making a one-time donation via Paypal

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Tue, Apr 12, 2016 1:13am

Thank you again for all of your hard work and time. I know that you feel your effort has gone largely unnoticed and unrewarded, but power does seem to be slowly shifting. This year in particular, mainstream discussions are finally moving beyond an argument about whether or not a woman should be the main character in a tentpole action/adventure blockbuster to arguments about the specific types of female characters that should be at the center of a movie. It is progress of a sort, but obviously there is still a long way to go. It will be interesting to compare this data with the picture ten years down the line.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  amanohyo
Tue, Apr 12, 2016 5:42pm

I know that you feel your effort has gone largely unnoticed and unrewarded

I do, and it’s extremely frustrating. But now that I have some soundbites, I will try again to get people interested.

Tue, Apr 12, 2016 3:22am

Congrats and thank you for your dedication, painstaking work and attention to detail/ nuance doing this study. The results are illuminating and sadly expected, but also heartening in a way, perhaps indicating some progress or at least making up some lost ground in the depiction of women and their stories in the mainstream. Like amanohyo said below, it will be interesting to compare 2015’s data to the state of cinema a decade on, see if any substantial gains are made and sustained or if regression in film culture is cyclical.