Los Angeles – Male characters outnumbered females 3-to-1 overall in top-grossing G-rated films from 1990 to 2004, according to a study whose sponsors say the disparity diminishes the importance of women in children's eyes.
"We're showing kids a world that's very scantly populated with women and female characters," said actress Geena Davis, founder of See Jane, a program of the advocacy group Dads & Daughters that encourages balanced gender representation in entertainment for children.
In the 101 animated and live-action films examined, 28 percent of speaking characters were female, and just 17 percent of people in crowd scenes were female, researchers found in the study released Thursday by See Jane.
"It's important for what kids watch that as far as possible, they see the real world reflected, to see men and women, boys and girls, sharing the space," said Davis, co-star of the female-empowerment film "Thelma & Louise" and star of TV's "Commander in Chief" in which she plays the U.S. president. "They should see female characters taking up half the planet, which we do."
Davis and others involved with the study — titled "Where the Girls Aren't" — planned to discuss the findings at a forum Thursday night in Los Angeles. They said they hope to use the research to push Hollywood toward giving female characters equal time on screen and encourage parents to vote with their wallets by choosing films offering balanced gender representation.
Spokesmen at Disney, which had the biggest share of films in the study, Paramount and Universal said studio executives declined to comment.
The results came as little surprise to researchers. Studies have found similar imbalances between male and female roles in films for adults and on TV shows, and anyone who channel-surfs or goes to the movies regularly knows anecdotally that men dominate the screen.
"There seems to be nothing new under the sun here," said Stacy Smith, associate professor at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School of Communication, who oversaw the study. "The only thing different is it's G-rated films."
(G-rated means: General audiences. All ages admitted.)
Of the 101 films, 71 percent were animated or partly animated features. Among the films studied: "Finding Nemo," "The Lion King," "Monsters, Inc.," "Chicken Run," "The Princess Diaries," "Babe," "The Santa Clause 2" and "Toy Story."
Joe Kelly, co-founder of Dads & Daughters, said as much as he loves "Toy Story," the study made him think about the movie differently. The movie has a positive message about two characters — Tom Hanks' Woody and Tim Allen's Buzz Lightyear — overcoming their differences and working together, but it does have a flaw, Kelly said.
"It wasn't until the study that I went back and realized there's only one toy that's a female character, and it's Bo-Peep. She's standing at the window going, `Oh, Woody, don't hurt yourself,'" Kelly said. "Not that I want `Toy Story' to be changed. I don't think there should be any sort of gender formula. But there are other movies to be made with powerful messages featuring female characters."