The future is female superheroes.
Kids say they want to see more women superheroes in film and on TV, according to new research by BBC America and the Women’s Media Center released this week.
In the study, “Superpowering Girls: Female Representation in the Sci-Fi/Superhero Genre,” researchers surveyed an even gender split of 2,431 kids and teens aged 10 to 19 and parents of children aged 5 to 9, who answered on behalf of their child. They asked them about their role models, favorite superheroes, future aspirations and gender representation in media to examine how on-screen inclusivity affects self-esteem.
Every demographic group surveyed said they wanted to see more SHEros: 69% of boys aged 10 to 19 and 75% of parents of boys aged 5 to 9 said there needs to be more women sci-fi superheros in media; and 2 in 3 boys said they enjoy watching movies that have a female heroine. And even more girls say there are not enough strong female character portrayed on screen: 85% of girls aged 10 to 19 and 88% of ladies aged 5 to 9 agreed. People of color were more likely than any group to want more sci-fi characters and superheroes who look like them (83%).
The study found that in general, both children and teens choose role models who are the same gender as themselves when asked who they look up to most: 85% of girls and parents of girls named a female role model, while 87% of boys and parents of boys named a male. “Wonder Woman,” for example, ranks the No. 1 hero for 39% of girls, while 44% of boys chose Batman. It’s worth noting that only 26.7% of all DC and Marvel characters are female, and only 12% of mainstream superhero comics have female protagonists, according to a report by gender and diversity website The Pudding.
Numerous studies show that women and girls fare better when they see role models who look like them — and when there is not enough representation in media, it could have an effect on their overall confidence. That may, in part, help explain why teens and girls in this survey were significantly less likely than teen boys to describe themselves as confident, brave and heard in the study. And these obstacles are even more prevalent among girls of color, who are significantly less likely than their Caucasian counterparts to feel heard when they speak. What’s more, 34% of teen girls and 28% of boys felt that girls have fewer opportunities than boys to be leaders, further perpetuating the confidence gap during the developmental adolescent years.
Not only can female superheros and strong women protagonists help boost girl’s confidence, they’re good for business. While male characters have long dominated the superhero genre, women-fronted films with strong female leads bank big time at the box office. “Wonder Woman,” starring Gal Gadot and directed by Patty Jenkins, raked in $700 million worldwide becoming the highest grossing live-action film of all time (it was also directed by a women). And Ava DuVernay’s “A Wrinkle in Time,” about a brave young girl who embarks on a dangerous journey through space and time to rescue her father from evil forces, and “Black Panther,” the sci-fi coming-of-age flick starring female leads Lupita Nyong’o and Danai Gurira, made box office history for being the top two movies helmed by black directors with budgets of more than $100 million. Black Panther surpassed $1 billion at the global box office, while “A Wrinkle in Time” made more than $33 million on its opening weekend and over $132 million worldwide.
Despite these big wins, there’s still a lot of work to be done. While women represent 50.8% of the U.S. population, but they made up only 31.8% of speaking characters in films last year, according to a study by University of Southern California’s Anneberg Inclusion initiative. And out of the 48,757 speaking characters in the 1,100 top-grossing films since 2007, just 30.6% have been women. While there seems to be a better gender balance among child characters (52.7% male to 47.3% female in 2017), the gap widens in teen characters (55.3% male to 44.7% female). By age 40, 75.4% of characters were male.
Experts say inclusivity on screen is key to giving young girls more confidence in themselves as they grow older.
“At this time of enormous, sweeping, social change, it’s important that television and film provide an abundance of roles and role models for diverse girls and young women. We know that representation matters, as evidenced by this report,” Julie Burton, President of The Women’s Media Center, said in a statement.
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