Women Nabbed More Lead Roles in Top 2018 Films – But Still Less Than a Third of All Speaking Roles

New study from USC’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative found just 33.1% of female characters represented in top 100 films of 2018

Last Updated: September 4, 2019 @ 7:13 AM

Just because women are starring in more films does not mean that women are getting more opportunities on screen. A new study, from USC Annenberg’s Inclusion Initiative found that women were the leads or co-leads in 39 of 2018’s 100 top-grossing films, more than any year in the past decade, but the overall speaking parts for women have hardly budged an inch.

That’s a noticeable growth toward gender parity since only 33 of the top 100 had a female lead or co-lead the previous year and only 20 held the lead roles in 2007, according to the group’s research.

However, the study found that only 33.1% of all the speaking parts among the top 100 films from last year were from female characters. That total rose less than half a percent compared to 10 years ago. Further, only 9% of all the films surveyed featured gender-balanced casts, which was down 10% from 2017 and 3% from a decade earlier.

Those are some of the major takeaways from “Inequality in 1,200 Popular Films: Examining Portrayals of Gender, Race/Ethnicity, LGBTQ & Disability from 2007 to 2018.” The study observed a strong increase in leads from racial and ethnic groups, both in front of and behind the camera, as well as for women from those different demographic groups. And yet the report also conducted an “invisibility analysis” that showed that non-white and LGBTQ women are often absent from these films altogether.

“Despite more than a decade of advocacy, the percentage of female speaking characters has not increased,” Dr. Stacy L. Smith, one of the authors of the study, said in a statement. “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.”

Twelve of the top 100 films from 2018 had no speaking black characters, 47 had no Latino speaking characters, 32 had no Asian speaking characters, and 76 had no LGBT characters. Even worse, only 1.6% of films featured a character with a disability, and in just over a fourth of the time were those characters women. Interestingly, 11 of the top 100 films in 2018 featured a female lead over the age of 45. This was twice as many as the year prior, but it was half as many that featured a male lead over the age of 45.

“These numbers reveal the depth of the erasure of female characters, particularly those from underrepresented racial/ethnic backgrounds, the LGBTQ community, and individuals with disabilities,” Marc Choueiti, program director at the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, said in a statement. “As we continue to monitor the most popular films released each year, these numbers are one place we will continue to scrutinize for change.”