Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 17 February 2020

Record number of female leads featured on movie screens in 2019, study finds

The representation of women of colour, however, fell last year

'Captain Marvel', featuring Brie Larson, was one of 2019's female-fronted films. Chuck Zlotnick / Marvel Studios
'Captain Marvel', featuring Brie Larson, was one of 2019's female-fronted films. Chuck Zlotnick / Marvel Studios

In the midst of #BaftasSoWhite, as the British awards ceremony shortlisted no female director nor any actors of colour in its main category nominations, Hollywood doesn't feel particularly diverse.

However, according to a new study, 2019 was in fact the year that featured the highest representation of female leads on the big screen.

The annual It’s a Man’s (Celluloid) World report found that of the year's top-grossing films, 40 per cent contained female protagonists, a new record since the study began in 2002.

That figure jumped from 31 per cent in 2018, which was already a spike from just 24 per cent in 2017. In 2019, females also accounted for 37 per cent of major characters, whether protagonist or antagonist, which was a 1 per cent leap from 2018.

The study, which is compiled by the Centre for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, also ascertained that in 2019's top-grossing films, 43 per cent featured male protagonists, just pipping their female counterparts to the post. The remaining 17 per cent of films were fronted by mixed-sex or ensemble casts.

Females, however, made up just 34 per cent of all speaking characters, the study found, which is a 1 per cent fall from 2018.

From left: Elle Fanning as Aurora, Angelina Jolie as Maleficent and Sam Riley as Diaval in ‘Maleficent: Mistress of Evil’. Disney
Elle Fanning and Angelina Jolie starred in 2019's ‘Maleficent: Mistress of Evil’. Disney

Women of colour also didn't fare so well, with the percentage of black actresses in speaking roles falling from 21 per cent in 2018 to 20 per cent in 2019. Equally, the percentage of Latin actresses in speaking roles dropped from 5 per cent to 4 per cent in that same year, as did the number of Asian females in speaking roles, which fell from 10 per cent to 7 per cent.

The study analyses more than 2,300 characters featured in 2019's 100 top-grossing films in the US. The top-grossing films in the list include Avengers: Endgame, the Brie Larson-fronted Captain Marvel, Joker and Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, starring Angelina Jolie.

The It’s a Man’s (Celluloid) World report, which is in its 18th year, has "considered the representation of more than 20,000 characters appearing in approximately 900 films" since it began.

When the first report was released in 2002, female leads made up just 16 per cent of the year's top-grossing films. The lowest year on record was in 2011, when female representation was just 11 per cent.

Updated: January 11, 2020 04:51 PM

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