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Representation of Women-led films Declined by Nearly 30% in 2023: Study

Despite Barbie’s success at the box office in 2023, she wasn’t able to change the landscape for women’s representation in films. The percentage of women, particularly women of color and those aged 45 and above, in movies released in North America hit nearly decade-low levels last year, according to a study by the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative released today. This decline occurred even as some state legislatures discussed limiting or abolishing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts at public institutions. Despite Barbie’s impact, these percentages were the lowest since 2014.

The study’s authors, Katherine L. Neff, Dr. Stacy L. Smith, and Dr. Katherine Pieper, emphasized that while Barbie’s success was notable, it couldn’t single-handedly drive progress across the entire film industry. The USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative examined the gender, race/ethnicity, and age of lead and co-lead characters in the top 100 highest-grossing films from 2007 to 2023, covering over 1,700 titles in total.

Neff, Dr. Smith, and Dr. Katherine Pieper expressed dismay over the findings, highlighting the film industry’s failure to make significant progress in diversity and inclusion, despite public statements suggesting otherwise. They emphasized that relying on one successful film, even if it’s a blockbuster like Barbie, cannot compensate for the lack of representation in the majority of films.

The authors underscored the need for broader representation, stating that celebrating individual successes like Barbie is insufficient. They criticized the industry for its apparent apathy towards diversity and inclusion efforts, calling for more than just a few films each year to reflect the experiences of women and people of color. They argued that until the industry moves beyond token representation, meaningful change will remain elusive.

According to the study, only 30 out of the top 100 films in 2023 featured a female lead or co-lead character at the center of the storyline, marking a significant drop from the 44% recorded in 2022. This is despite the fact that females make up more than half of the U.S. population and represent half of the movie-going audience.

In terms of age representation, only three films in 2023 featured a female lead or co-lead aged 45 or older at the time of release: “Cocaine Bear” (Keri Russell), “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3” (Nia Vardalos), and “Magic Mike’s Last Dance” (Salma Hayek). Interestingly, for every film led or co-led by an older woman, there were over ten films led or co-led by an older man.

The number of films with women aged 45 or older in leading or co-leading roles in 2023 was notably lower than the count in 2022, which had ten such films.

Regarding racial diversity, the percentage of films with leads or co-leads who were women of color increased from 31 titles in 2022 to 37 titles in 2023. While this reflects progress compared to 2007 when it stood at 13%, it still falls short of the national percentage of underrepresented people, which is 41%. However, in 2023, two studios came close to reaching that national percentage.

The breakdown of representation by distributor for female leads or co-leads is as follows:

– Lionsgate: 20%

– Universal Pictures: 21.1%

– Warner Bros. Pictures: 38.5%

– Paramount Pictures: 44.4%

Walt Disney Studios: 46.1%

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