BBC America and the Women’s Media Center have jointly published a new study on the impact of representation in science fiction and superhero storytelling on young audiences. The results are not surprising: the kids who were surveyed for the study want to see more female superheroes and sci-fi role models in film and television, and the study “confirms that representation onscreen can positively affect child’s confidence, career trajectory, and overall self-image.”
The Wrong Lesson Learned
After movies like Catwoman and Elektra bombed at the box office, risk-averse Hollywood executives used those as examples that audiences had no interest in female-led superhero or sci-fi movies. Over the past few years, though, heroines like Katniss Everdeen, Rey, Furiosa, Wonder Woman, and more slowly seeped into the cultural consciousness and proved those short-sighted executives wrong. But there’s still plenty of room for improvement, and this new study suggests that young audiences are hungry for female role models in the sci-fi and superhero genres.
Kids Want More Female Superheroes
2,431 girls and boys aged 10-19 and parents of children aged 5-9, who answered on behalf of their child, were surveyed this summer, and the results reinforced what we’ve known for a while now: representation is incredibly important, especially to young audiences. According to the study, “every demographic group surveyed expressed a desire for more female heroes in the sci-fi and superhero genre, with girls, especially girls of color, and, also boys of color, most likely to want more sci-fi/superheroes who look like them.”
Here are a handful of other noteworthy findings from the results:
- Teen girls are significantly less likely than teen boys to describe themselves as confident, brave, and heard. And these challenges are even more pronounced for girls of color, who are significantly less likely than their Caucasian counterparts to feel listened to when they speak.
- Despite notable campaigns to boost women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), we still see a 23-point gender gap between teen boys and girls with regards to interest in STEM careers. And that translates to leadership in STEM industries. For instance, only 20 percent of tech executives are women — 80 percent of tech executives are men.
- 1 in 3 teens agree that girls have fewer opportunities than boys to be leaders.
“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,” said Women’s Media Center president Julie Burton. “We know that representation matters, as evidenced by this report. Our research found that female sci-fi and superhero characters help bridge the confidence gap for girls, making them feel strong, brave, confident, inspired, positive, and motivated.”
Look, nobody is saying that putting more women front and center in superhero movies is going to instantly change those numbers. But it wouldn’t hurt to try, would it? The good news is that Hollywood seems to finally be realizing that female-led properties can be profitable. Thankfully, the kids who will benefit from seeing themselves represented on screen won’t care whether the studios are financially motivated or have more noble intentions, so as long as we continue to see films like Captain Marvel get the green light (regardless of the reasoning behind it), hopefully they’ll have a positive impact on the next generation in the long run. Say it with me one more time: representation matters.
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