Women held two-fifths of the leading roles in the 100 highest-grossing films at the domestic box office in 2019, according to a study released Wednesday by San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film.
The center’s latest report, titled “It’s a Man’s (Celluloid) World,” also found that women made unprecedented gains as protagonists — defined as characters from whose perspective the story is told — in 2019. Women accounted for 40% of the protagonists in the 100 top-grossing films, up from 31% last year.
Comparatively, 43% of those films featured men in protagonist roles and 17% had a combination of male and female protagonists.
In 2019, 45% of female protagonists appeared in studio features and 55% were in independent features, a major change from 2018, when female protagonists appeared in 68% of independent features and just 32% of studio features.
Last year, female protagonists were most likely to appear in horror movies, followed by dramas, comedies, action movies, sci-fi movies and animated movies, according to the study.
“We have now seen two consecutive years of substantial gains for female protagonists, indicating the beginning of a positive shift in representation,” said Martha Lauzen, the center’s executive director. “That said, it is important to note that moviegoers are still almost twice as likely to see a male character as a female character in a speaking role.”
The study found that women made up 37% of major characters — up 1% from 2018 — and 34% of all speaking characters — down 1% from 2018.
Major characters were defined as characters that appear in more than one scene and are instrumental to the action of the story.
In 2019, 68% of all female characters with speaking roles were white, 20% were black and 5% were Latina.
Without the boost provided by the film “Crazy Rich Asians” in 2018, the percentage of Asian female characters in speaking roles fell from 10% to 7%, its rate in 2017.
In movies with at least one woman director and/or writer, women comprised 58% of protagonists, 42% of major characters and 39% of all speaking characters.
In movies that featured exclusively male directors and/or writers, women accounted for 30% of protagonists, 35% of major characters and 32% of all speaking characters.
Despite the gains for women in protagonist roles, women were more likely than male characters to have a known marital status, while male characters were more likely to have an identifiable occupation and were more likely to be seen doing work in a work setting, the study found.
The Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film has conducted the Celluloid Ceiling study since 2002, and used year-end box office data from Box Office Mojo to complete it.
–City News Service
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