A story of women's representation in the movie industry

Posted by NoNansLand on December 21, 2022 ·

The last decade has been marked by emancipating and feminist movements. While many inequalities subsist to this day, women’s rights have progressed, along with mentalities[1][2]. As a result, the lack of women’s representation in far too many domains was put in the spotlight and could no longer be ignored. In this context, we consider that the film industry could be viewed as a reflection of society across time and space. Indeed, the cinema industry is a product of spectators’ expectations and social norms. However, it also impacts the viewer and can participate in popularizing new scenarios and characters, which can have a significant social impact in the long term.

In this context, we propose to study movies dating from 1940 to 2009 from the CMU corpus and attempt to derive trends and specificities of female characters to understand the evolution of women’s representation. This analysis might help us determine whether the recent movements were preceded by an underlying improvement of women’s condition as reflected in the film industry, or whether these movements marked a societal gap. We will study women’s representation in the whole movie industry throughout the last century and further assess how much our observations are conserved according to two of the most important characteristics for each movie: its genre and the country in which it has been produced.

Global representation of women in the movie industry

The evolution of women’s representation can be observed under three different scopes: their relative presence in the movie industry, the character’s traits such as age, and finally, the role given to female characters and their involvement in the plot.

To set the stage, let’s look at the proportion of roles played by women in the whole set of movies.


Obviously, something is wrong, maybe this ratio has evolved through time, and recent ratios are closer to equity! So let’s look at it to settle the situation:


Even if we might observe an increasing trend, statistically, there is no significant difference in proportions of female characters between decades. We are far from reaching 50% of female characters on average. Additionally, women’s representation can be studied from different scopes, for example, the main attribute of actresses, one of them being age distribution. Our first intuition would be that female actresses tend to be younger than male actors, but numbers are better than words: