Study: For the first time, family films had as many women and girls in lead roles as men and boys in 2019

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A teenager named Yi (voice of Chloe Bennet) helps a displaced yeti in DreamWorks Animation and Pearl Studio’s “Abominable,” written and directed by Jill Culton. [Universal Pictures photo]

Gender representation reached a remarkable milestone in the influential family film market in 2019.

CNN reports that  2019 saw just as many female lead characters in family films as male lead characters, according to a new study from The Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media.

Last year, 48% of the 100 top-grossing family movies featured lead female characters, according to the institute’s annual “See Jane” report, which defined a family film as any live-action or animated film that was rated G, PG or PG-13.

“Media images have a huge impact on how we see ourselves and judge our value,” Davis told CNN via email. “When you see someone like yourself reflected, you take in the message: ‘There’s someone like me, I must belong.’ This is why it’s vital for children to see — from the beginning — fictitious worlds that reflect the real world, which is half female and very diverse.”

In 2007, only 24% of family films featured female characters in lead roles, CNN noted.

Davis told CNN that achieving gender parity in family films is important for girls, as it means “girls will be far more likely to see that they are just as important as boys, and that they do half of the interesting, important things.”

“Boys will take this message in unconsciously too, and thus be more likely to see girls as equals,” she added.

Madeline Di Nonno, CEO of the Geena Davis Institute, told CNN there’s room for more improvement.

“Sexualization and age continue to be major variables that need progress. Our study shows that female characters are six times more likely to be in sexually revealing clothing, a statistic that has been very consistent over decades of research,” Di Nonno said, per CNN.

“We see the same glacial movement when it comes to age, with most female characters being under 40, and little to no females at 50 or over; yet male characters are plentiful at being depicted in their 40s and older.”

Along with gender, the study’s researchers also delved into five other areas – age, race, LGBTQ+, disability and body size diversity – and noted some gains, but again, opportunities for more progress.

The percentage of leads who were people of color increased from 22% in 2007 to 30% last year.

In addition, 8% of 2019’s family films included a lead character with a disability, up from a measly 1% a decade ago.

Still, just 8.3% of characters are of what the study calls “large body type,” and portrayals of those characters often included damaging stereotypes, according to the study. Large characters were less likely to be portrayed as smart, and about 7.4% were verbally shamed.

“There’s still much work to be done, but we are so encouraged by the progress being made,” Davis said, per CNN.

“Creating more diverse characters means being more relevant to a larger segment of the population … and that makes your project literally more colorful.”




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