The study found that “for the first time in more than a decade, film is on par with television with regard to the quantity of stories about girls and women”.
According to the findings, 43 of the past year’s top 100 movies featured a female lead or co-lead, compared to 39 in 2018 and 20 in 2007.
“Despite this historic high, this percentage is still below the female population per the US Census (51 per cent) and the percentage of tickets sold at the box office in North America to females (47%),” the study notes.
Out of those female leads and co-leads, 16 were from what the report calls “underrepresented racial/ethnic groups” – five percentage points higher than in 2018 and 15 percentage points higher than 2007, when only one movie fit the category.
No girl or woman identifying as Native American/ Alaskan Native, Middle Eastern/North African, or Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander was given a leading or co-leading part last year, according to the study.
Overall, 31 out of the top 100 films of the year films featured a lead or a co-lead “from an underrepresented racial/ethnic group” regardless of gender, which amounts to a four-percentage-point increase from 2018 and 18 percentage points from 2007.
“The slight gain from last year makes 2019 a 13-year high in the representation of people of colour in leading or co-leading roles,” the study notes. “However, the figure still falls below the U.S. Census (39.6 per cent) by 8.6 percentage points. Across the entire sample, 17 per cent of leading/co-leading roles cast actors from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups.”
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According to the findings, Walt Disney Studios generated $4bn from female-led or co-led films in 2019, with other studios bringing in between $400m and $893m thanks to their female-led movies.
Age was also examined in the study, which found that only three out of the past year’s top 100 films featured female leads or co-leads aged 45 or more. “Only one of the female leads/co-leads in 2019 was an underrepresented woman 45 years of age or older,” the study adds.
In this category, 2019 fell behind 2018, during which 11 films had a lead aged 45 or older. In 2007, just one film fit that criterion.
The findings come shortly after Joaquin Phoenix criticised the lack of diversity during this year’s awards season at the Baftas, telling the crowd: “We really have to do the hard work to truly understand systemic racism.”
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