SDSU film study shows disparity among major roles for women in top grossing movies

SAN DIEGO –Film audiences were roughly twice as likely to see a man in a speaking role in 2018, according to a report released Tuesday by San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film.

Roughly 35 percent of the top 100 domestic grossing movies in 2018 included 10 or more women in speaking roles, while 82 percent of those same movies had 10 or more men in speaking roles, according to report author Martha Lauzen, the center’s executive director. Both figures represent 1 percent changes from 2017 and 2016, when women made up 37 percent of major character and speaking roles and men made up 63 percent, she said.

The percentage of films with female protagonists reached a record high of 31 percent last year, a rise of 7 percent over 2017. Men still held the majority of protagonist roles at 52 percent with ensemble protagonists making up the other 17 percent.

Among people of color, black women held 21 percent of speaking roles last year, up from 16 percent in 2017, while Latina speaking roles fell from 7 percent to 4 percent. Roles for Asian women increased from 7 percent to 10 percent from 2017 to 2018, but much of that increase can be attributed to “Crazy Rich Asians,” according to Lauzen. When that film is removed from consideration, Asian women only occupied 8 percent of film roles in 2018, she said

“While female protagonists rebounded last year, slightly besting the previous high achieved in 2016, the percentages of females as speaking characters and major characters remained relatively stagnant,” Lauzen said. “Protagonists are the characters from whose perspective the story is told and so seeing more females in these roles is tremendously important. However, we are not seeing similar gains in the broader populations of major characters and in all speaking roles.”

According to the report, 32 percent of comedies had women protagonists, the most of any genre. Women also accounted for protagonists in 29 percent of dramas, 19 percent or horror films, 10 percent of science fiction films and 7 percent of action movies.

“(Female protagonists’) appearance in a variety of genres suggests female characters are being woven more deeply into all types of stories,” Lauzen said. “If a particular genre temporarily falls out of favor, it is less likely that substantial numbers of female protagonists will disappear from the big screen.”

Films with at least one woman directing or writing were also more likely to include women in major speaking roles. Women made up 57 percent of protagonists in such films while films directed and written exclusively by men had a woman protagonist only 21 percent of the time.

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