Turns out, 2016 was a good year for female film protagonists; or at least one that was a bit better than previous years. A new study released by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University has found that last year more female actors took center stage in films. According to the study, females comprised 29% of protagonists in the 100 top-grossing films of 2016. This figure represents a recent historical high, and a 7% increase from 2015.
Female actors accounted for 37% of major characters, a 3% increase from 2015. The percentage of female characters in speaking roles (both major and minor) stayed basically the same, at 32%, only a 1% decrease from 2015.
In an industry that has for years been dominated my males, studios are finally moving towards hiring more women in leading roles, not only in the classic romantic comedy categories, but also in blockbusters such as “Arrival,” starring Amy Adams; “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” starring Felicity Jones; and the “Ghostbusters” reboot featuring an all-female cast: Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones, and Kate McKinnon. Studios are also moving in the direction of making more female superhero films, such as “Captain Marvel” and “Wonder Woman,” set to release in the coming years.
However, comedy is still the category in which female protagonists were most likely to appear (28%), followed by dramas (24%), horror films (17%), animated features (14%), science fiction films (14%), and action films (3%).
The study, titled “It’s a Man’s (Celluloid) World,” digs deeper to include race, finding that 76% of all female characters were white, 14% were Black, 6% were Asian, 3% were Latina, and 1% were classified as “other.”
“The findings for race and ethnicity were a mixed bag. The percentage of Asian female characters doubled in 2016, and the percentage of Black female characters increased slightly, but the percentage of Latina characters decreased slightly,” Lauzen said.
These findings come in the aftermath of a much publicized debate in Hollywood, that of inclusion and gender equality — or the lack thereof. This has been a hot topic in recent years, with actresses like Scarlett Johansson and Jennifer Lawrence speaking up against the gender pay gap in the film industry.
Lauzen’s findings show that things might be getting better for women in the film industry. “While audiences were still more than twice as likely to see male characters as female characters in top grossing movies, females fared better as protagonists and major characters in 2016,” Lauzen said in a statement.