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  • Writer's pictureLeah Jewett

Family films: who gets to do what onscreen?

Who are children seeing – and not seeing – in the family films that come out of Hollywood?

Children are impacted by not seeing characters like them represented in popular culture. While they are developing their identity and figuring out their place in the world, it’s important for them to experience diversity and be exposed to more women, people of colour, LGBT+ people, people with a large body type and people over age 60 onscreen.

A new report from Geena Davis Institute On Gender In Media, which works with Hollywood to make entertainment more inclusive, mentions a milestone in media made for kids. There’s been parity of female and male leads since 2011 in US TV shows, but it wasn’t until 2019 that female and male leads were on a par in family films – that is, those rated G, PG or PG-13.

So who had screen-time in the most popular family films of 2019 and how were they shown?


Good news! 48% of family films featured female leads. Their speaking time increased to just under 40% (from 31.3% in 2014) and their screen time went up to 42.6% (from 34.9%). But…

  • female characters are more likely to wear revealing clothing

  • male characters are more likely to be violent


Good news! The percentage of people of colour as lead characters in family films has increased over the past decade to 30%. But…

  • racial stereotypes persist

  • white characters have higher socioeconomic status and are shown as leaders


Bad news – although family films with LGBT+ characters reached a historic high in 2018, there was a decline in 2019…


Good news! Family films with leads who have a disability have increased in the last two years – to a historic high of 8%. They are also more likely to be leaders and to be…

  • hard working

  • in management positions

  • working in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) fields


Bad news. Compared to the US population, large people are underrepresented in family films. Their characters often reinforce damaging stereotypes, and 7.4% are verbally shamed


People over 60 are underrepresented in family films compared to the broader population. Although their characters are often managers and leaders in the workplace, they are also often shown as…

  • non-sexual

  • not working

So when you watch a family film with your kids, apply some critical thinking. Keep an eye out for who does what, who’s in a position of power, how realistic characters are, who created the film, who the intended audience is – and the feelings that all of this leaves you with.

Stats from Historic Gender Parity In Family Films (Geena Davis Institute On Gender In Media)

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