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Men Out-Talk Women Almost Three to One in the Movies, Study Finds



In the movies, women are talking (as Mark Wahlberg put it) — but not as much as the men.

Male-speaking characters outnumbered their female counterparts 63 percent to 37 percent in the 100 highest-grossing domestic films of 2022, according to the latest “It’s a Man’s (Celluloid) World” report from San Diego State’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film.

This year’s report added demographic analysis of more than 2,100 characters to a body of research that now spans two decades, 1,200 movies and more than 27,000 characters. In 2022, women served as the protagonist in roughly a third of movies (33 percent), roughly consistent with the trend from the last five years and up from 16 percent in 2002, the first year of the study. Interestingly, horror movies were much more likely to have female leads (43 percent of female protagonists appeared in scary films) than male (just 4 percent of male leads did).

Women comprised 38 percent of major characters — defined as appearing in more than one scene and “instrumental to the action of the story” — in 2022, with little significant deviation year over year. There were no major nonbinary or transgender-speaking characters. Among the top 100 movies of 2022, 0.1 percent of speaking characters were transgender and only one character was explicitly nonbinary.

In general, the movies tended to put younger women onscreen. The most-featured decade for both men and women was the 30s, while the second-most for men was the 40s (29 percent of male characters) compared to the 20s for female characters (20 percent). There were actually fewer 40-something female characters in 2022’s crop of films (14 percent) than in 2015 (20 percent). “Age is not just an employment issue for actors,” said Martha Lauzen, founder and executive director for the Center. “When female characters are relatively young, they are less likely to hold positions of great personal or professional power. Viola Davis and Cate Blanchett are superb actors, but they are also convincing, at least in part, because they have achieved the gravitas and life experience needed to play those roles.”

White women occupied the majority of female characters (64.2 percent of speaking roles, up from 60.6 percent in 2021, and 61.3 percent of major characters, up from 57.6 percent). Speaking roles for women of all other races and ethnicities declined in 2022 (18 percent Black, 6.9 percent Latina, 8.1 percent Asian, 0.8 percent Middle Eastern and North African, 0.4 percent multiracial and zero Native American), and only Black and MENA women ( 21.6 percent and 0.3 percent, respectively) did not also experience a decrease in representation among major characters (7 percent were Latina, 6.6 percent Asian, 0.7 percent multiracial and again no Native Americans).

“From 2020 to 2021, the increases in the numbers of major Latina and female Asian American characters were due to films featuring higher concentrations of characters in these groups, such as In the Heights, West Side Story and Raya and the Last Dragon,” Lauzen explained in a statement. “However, the absence of similar films in 2022 caused the percentages of females in these groups to drop.”

The SDSU study comes two and a half weeks after the release of USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative’s annual demographic analysis of film lead/co-lead characters, which found that women of color protagonists reached a 16-year high in representation in 2022 (16 of the 100 highest-grossing movies of the year).

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