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2017 Had Even Fewer Female Protagonists Onscreen Than 2016, New Study Finds

The number dropped five percentage points.

Women accounted for just 24 percent of protagonists in the 100 top-grossing films of 2017, according to a new study. The latest It’s a Man’s (Celluloid) World report, released by Dr. Martha Lauzen of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, notes a drop of five percent from 2016.

Other key figures: Females made up 37 percent of major characters, the same number as 2016, and 34 percent of speaking characters — an increase of two percent. 32 percent of films featured 10 or more female characters in speaking roles, whereas 79 percent had 10 or more male characters.

“Despite the visibility of female leads in the top three grossing films of 2017, the overall percentage of female protagonists declined, the percentage of females as major characters remained unchanged and the percentage of females in speaking roles increased slightly,” Lauzen said. “In an awards season when talk about women and gender has been top of mind, we need to separate hyperbole from reality. The numbers do not yet reflect claims of a tectonic or massive shift in the film industry.”

The numbers regarding race and ethnicity ticked up slightly. The percentage of black females increased from 14 percent to 16 percent, Latinas went from three percent to seven percent, and Asian females increased from six percent to seven percent — all of which are historical highs. “While the percentage of Latinas more than doubled in 2017, they remain dramatically underrepresented in comparison to their representation in the U.S. population,” Lauzen said.

One factor that increased the number of prominent female characters: female writers and directors. Women comprised 45 percent of protagonists in films with at least one woman writer and/or director, but just 20 percent of protagonists in movies written and directed exclusively by men.

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