Animation companies are moving haltingly to promote women to key roles producing and directing the films and shows they make, according to a new study by the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative.
In the past 12 years, 3% of the directors of animated movies were women, and just one, “Kung Fu Panda 2’s” Jennifer Yuh Nelson, was a woman of color. On the small screen, 13% of episodes from popular animated TV programs from 2018 had female directors, three of whom were women from underrepresented racial and ethnic backgrounds.
That lack of diversity was reflected in the stories unfolding across movie theaters, television, and mobile devices. Movies such as “Moana” and television shows such as “Dora the Explorer” have made headlines by focusing on female characters, but they remain the exception to the rule. Only 17% of the 120 top-grossing animated films from 2007 to 2018 had a female lead or co-lead, and just three of those movies boasted a woman of color as its protagonist.
Television fared better. The study’s authors examined the first episode of the 100 top animated television shows and determined that 39% of the credited cast was female with 12% of the cast comprised of women of color. Advocates for inclusions, such as actress Geena Davis, argue that children’s programming plays a vital role in shaping attitudes towards gender. They maintain that offering more empowered female characters will help combat sexism.
Things were more equitable in the executive suites around Hollywood. Women comprise roughly half of the executives in animation and hold half of the most powerful positions in major film animation companies and studios. That’s in contrast to most major studios, which are dominated by male executives.
There was also significant progress on the producing front. In the last 12 years, 37% of producers of animated movies were women — in contrast women produced just 15% of live action films.
“The proportion of women in this leadership role in animation, and the progress made in the last decade indicates that there are spaces where the industry is taking inclusion seriously and affecting change,” said Dr. Stacy L. Smith, the center’s founder and director. “However, only 5% of producers of animated films and 1% of live action producers were women of color. The movie industry is completely out of step with the audience in this regard.”
Once again, television proved to be more inclusive. Twenty percent of executive producers on animated shows, 17% of co-executive producers, and 34% of producers were women. But women of color were underrepresented, comprising 6% of executive producers and 8% of producers.
The report was conducted in partnership with Women in Animation, a non-profit advocacy group, and was released in conjunction with the Annecy International Animation Film Festival.