According to a new report from the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, the percentage of movies featuring female protagonists in 2018 rose to 31%. That’s a 7 point increase from last year and beats the previous high of 29% from 2016. The study pointed to movies like the reboot/sequel of Halloween and zeitgeist friendly commercial smashes like A Star is Born and Crazy Rich Asians as signs of progress. Black actresses had more speaking roles in 2018, as did Asian women, although the study does note that the increase in the latter is almost exclusively thanks to Crazy Rich Asians. Things weren’t so good for Latina women, with speaking parts down to 4% in 2018.
The gender gap regarding directors was noted as an influencing factor in female representation on film. 57% of films with a female director or writer had a female protagonist, compared to 29% of films with male writers or directors. To get its results, the study examined the top 100-grossing domestic releases, so indie favourites like Tully, The Wife, Leave No Trace, and Can You Ever Forgive Me? were not included. Typically, women directors, writers, producers and actors fare better in the indie scene but have trouble breaking through to wider releases and more mainstream projects. To the surprise of nobody, the study revealed that ‘movies with a single female protagonists driving the action were more than twice as likely to be independent features (68%) as opposed to studio features (32%).’ And even as things improve, women are often still relegated to the side or as token figures in wider male ensembles. Women played only 36% of major characters in the top grossing movies of 2018, a decrease of a percentage point from the previous year. Only 35% of the top-grossing films had 10 or more female characters in speaking roles. By comparison, 82% of those films featured 10 male characters with speaking parts. Essentially, you are about twice as likely to see men in movies than women.
It remains to be seen if things will improve in 2019. Captain Marvel is on the way, as well as potentially the end of Rey’s journey in the 9th Star Wars movie, but the lion’s share of big-budget tentpole movies are being headlined by men, and usually white men at that. Women are still only directing a handful of wide releases too, even as they dominate the indie circuit.
So yeah, even the smidgens of progress we get feel depressing as all hell.
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