I was chatting with my friend Holli about Disney movies. She is the mother of 2 young girls. Her almost-3-year-old is obsessed with all things princess. She seems to have come by this obsession relatively naturally, with far less parental encouragement than one might imagine after observing her intense preoccupation with the illustrious club. My son is barely over 1 year old, and has not yet shown any interest in watching anything; I wonder what he might become interested in and what there is out there for young boys to admire and aspire to. So we were discussing male and female leading characters in popular Disney animated films. I have seen my more-than-fair-share of these films, so when I could hardly come up with a handful of male leads to match their female counterparts (who very readily came to mind), I was quite flummoxed. I can rattle off the entire princess line with plenty of breath to spare, but when challenged to name male leads, I was coming up short. My mind hit on a few right off the bat (Tarzan, King Arthur aka Wart, Aladdin), but the names didn't come to mind nearly as easily as I thought they would.
So, I dashed over to wikipedia and began to study the list of Disney Theatrical Animated Features. What I found was quite shocking.
I had assumed that because I couldn't immediately name a dozen leading men to match the princesses, that such men didn't exist. I was dead wrong. I have since poured over this list, and have made a few graphs that I believe illustrate some pretty disturbing discrepancies between the quantity of lead roles divided between the sexes in Disney animated films. Now, there certainly is a quality argument to be made here as well, but for now I speak only of quantity.
I am not a scientist, a statistician, or even a fan of graphs per se. There are likely many flaws in my research and reasoning. I am open to suggestions if you believe I have calculated something wrong, misinterpreted the data, or am otherwise way off in my analysis. But here's what I did:
I took the list from wikipedia and highlighted each film with two colors: pink for female lead character, blue for male. (A lead character is the person who is singularly at the center of the plot. In some films, that character is a little hard to distinguish or there isn't one (ie 101 Dalmatians), but in almost all of the films where the lead character was questionable, the top few primary characters were all male anyway.) Then I highlighted each film to distinguish if the lead character was human or non-human. The list looks like this:
There are 105 films on this list. Of those films, 80 had a male lead, 25 had a female lead.
|*Including male dominated ensembles and segment films. **Lead females per movie; some characters appear many times.|
|*Includes segment films ie. "Fantasia", "Melody Time", etc. and films where the lead is both human and animal ie. "Emperor's New Groove", "Princess and the Frog", etc.|
|*Lady, from "Lady and the Tramp", and 4 Tinker Bell movies.|
These pie charts show the male/female split in 20 year segments. Note: the last chart shows the last 12 years; there are more films in the last 10 years than the previous 20, and more films in the last 10 years than the first 40.
Here are some other pie charts that break down these groups further: