Dr. Katherine Pieper received her Ph.D. and M.A. in Communication from the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Her research interests include employment patterns in film and television, with a particular focus on diversity in key production roles. She has worked with Dr. Stacy Smith and Marc Choueiti at the Media, Diversity, and Social Change Initiative at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism since 2012. In addition to research on diversity, Dr. Pieper has assisted with several content and effects studies related to frightening and prosocial media portrayals.
Dr. Pieper graduated with a B.A. in Communication from Michigan State University (2003). Dr. Pieper’s dissertation focused on the role of social support in a three-year maternal and child health intervention in Cambodia. Between 2007 and 2011, she worked in communication and resource development, including proposal writing, reporting, and design of monitoring and evaluation activities for a non-governmental organization based in Phnom Penh.
Annenberg’s Media, Diversity, and Social Change Initiative produces cutting-edge, timely, and theory-driven empirical research on different entertainment-based minority groups. Roughly 20-30 undergraduate and graduate students are conducting research on gender and race to assess portrayals of males and females in popular media. Educators, advocates, and activists can access and use the research to create sustainable industry change on screen and behind-the-camera.
Examining 5,839 characters, a recent study of 129 top grossing G, PG, and PG-13 films theatrically released between 2006 and 2011 showed that less than 30% of all on screen speaking characters are girls or women. The ratio of males to females on the silver screen is 2.53 to 1. Other findings revealed that females are still more likely than males to be depicted in a stereotypical (i.e., caregivers, romantically involved, lacking employment) and hypersexualized (i.e., sexy attire, nudity, thinness) light. Further, females are far less likely to be shown in films as holding clout and powerful positions in political (e.g., Senators, Representatives), financial (e.g., CEO, CFO, COO, GM), or legal (Supreme Count Justices) arenas.
While on screen portrayals are skewed, the percentage of females working behind-the-scenes is even more abysmal. Across 1,100 top-grossing films between 2002 and 2012, only 4.4% of directors are female. This investigation also examined the total number of unique directors after removing individuals that helmed more than one film. In comparison to the 625 unique male directors, only 41 unique females emerged across the 11-year sample. This translates into a gender ratio of 15.24 males to every 1 female director!
Recent research reveals that the independent sphere is more female friendly. Commissioned by the Sundance Institute/Women in Film in Summer of 2012, Dr. Stacy Smith, the director of the Initiative, and her research team assessed female involvement as content creators at the Sundance Film Festival between 2002 and 2012. Across 11 years, 16.9% of all directors, 20.6% of all writers, and 29.4% of all producers of U.S. narratives are females. These percentages are all substantially higher than those found in some of Smith’s earlier work on top grossing studio films or Academy Award Best Picture Nominated Films. The Sundance study also qualitatively explored barriers facing female directors and producers in the independent space, with gendered financial impediments, a male dominated environment, and work family conflict the three most frequently mentioned obstacles by the 51 content creators and industry thought leaders interviewed.
Given these and other similar statistics from the lab, recent research by Dr. Smith, Rene Weber & Marc Choueiti, has focused on the economic success at the box office of feature films with women on screen and behind-the-scenes as well as interviewing over 110 content creators (i.e., directors, writers, producers, executives, etc.) about the reasons for the under representation and hypersexualization of girls and women in popular movies. (Funding for Dr. Smith’s research has come from the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, Sundance Institute, and See Jane.)
Please see this article in Cartoon Brew: “Crashing the Boys Club: Women Speak Out About Gender Inequality in Animation.”
And Buzzfeed’s: “Inside the Persistent Boys Club of Animation.”