Representation of women in films is getting worse, new study reveals

Only 35% of films featured 10 or more female speaking characters, study reveals

Clémence Michallon
New York
@Clemence_Mcl
Tuesday 19 February 2019 20:12
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'Crazy Rich Asians' is one of the movies of the past year that features a female protagonist and several female major characters.
'Crazy Rich Asians' is one of the movies of the past year that features a female protagonist and several female major characters.

Women protagonists im film became more prominent in 2018 – but the representation of female characters got worse overall, a new study has revealed.

Male characters dominated the big screen throughout the past year, according to a study released on Tuesday by the Centre for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University.

Only 35 per cent of films included 10 or more female speaking roles, but a staggering 82 per cent of movies had at least 10 male characters with speaking roles, according to the study, titled It’s a Man’s (Celluloid) World.

Female protagonists were featured more heavily in 2018, thanks to films such as Crazy Rich Asians, Mary Poppins Returns, and A Star is Born.

If we look at the top grossing films of the year, the percentage of those movies that feature female protagonists increased to 31 per cent – a remarkable increase from last year's measly 24 per cent, and still above the 29 per cent recorded in 2016.

But while the inclusion of female protagonists matters, it's interesting to look at major characters, who represent another indicator of the state of the industry as a whole.

For the study's purposes, protagonists are defined as "the characters from whose perspective the story is told".

Major characters are those who "appear in more than one scene and are instrumental to the narrative of the story" – meaning those roles, too, translate to more exposure, more work, and more career highlights for the female artists who play them.

Women represented only 36 per cent of major characters in film in 2018 – a one per cent decline from the 37 per cent recorded in 2017.

The percentage of black female characters went from 16 per cent in 2017 to 21 per cent in 2018. The representation of Latina actresses, however, decreased to four per cent over the past year, three percentage points lower than the seven per cent achieved in 2017.

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As for Asian actresses, their representation rose to 10 per cent this past year, compared to seven per cent in 2017. But the study notes that this stems mainly from one film, Crazy Rich Asians, which features an all-Asian cast.

If Crazy Rich Asians isn't factored in, the proportion of Asian female characters drops to eight per cent.

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