2018 was a banner year for women and people of color onscreen, USC’s annual Annenberg Inclusion Initiative report has found. While the success of “Black Panther” and “Crazy Rich Asians” propelled the conversation forward, those films represent a larger shift toward improving inclusion in Hollywood. While there is still more work to be done, the numbers reveal that public pressure on the movie industry to reflect world demographics more accurately is working. The study found that a record number of top-grossing films included women and people of color as leads or co-leads in 2018.
Of the 100 top-grossing films of 2018, 39 had women as leads or co-leads, a marked improvement from 33 in 2017 and just 20 in 2007, the year the study began. Underrepresented racial minorities were leads or co-leads in 27 top films, compared to 21 from the previous year. In addition, 11 films featured a female lead from an underrepresented group, compared to just four the previous year. Lastly, 11 movies were led by a female actor age 45 or older, versus 5 in 2017.
Led by Professor Stacy L. Smith, USC’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative study offers a comprehensive and intersectional look at film, having examined 53,178 characters in 1,200 top films from 2007 to 2018.
Analyzing all speaking characters in films, not simply leads or co-leads, the number of black and Asian speaking characters reached a 12-year high. Overall, the percentage of characters from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups rose from 29.3% in 2017 to 36.3% in 2018.
One explanation for the shift? More black directors. The study found the number of black directors for the 100 top-grossing films rose from 6 in 2017 to 15 in 2018.
“In 2018 we saw companies taking steps to ensure that certain groups were included in some of their most notable movies,” said Dr. Smith in a statement. “While we are pleased to see progress in some areas, efforts cannot end here. There are several arenas where much more growth is needed.”
One of those arenas is the number of speaking women characters, which represent just 30.9 percent of all roles across the study’s 12-year time frame. Only 33.1% of roles in the 100 top movies of 2018 went to female characters, only a slight improvement from the 31.8% the report found in 2017.
In addition, LGBTQ representation in major Hollywood movies has remained largely stagnant, and the same goes for characters with disabilities. Just 1.3% of characters in the top 100 films were LGBTQ. From 2014 to 2017, there was only one transgender character. In 2018, less than 2% of characters were shown with a disability, which represented a four-year low.
“Despite more than a decade of advocacy, the percentage of female speaking characters has not increased,” said Dr. Smith. “Additionally, we saw no substantial improvement in the percentage or representation of LGBTQ characters or characters with disabilities. It is crucial not to lose sight of these, and other areas, that still need to improve.”