Hollywood Had a Record Year for Female Protagonists in 2019, New Study Claims

Brie Larson stars in Captain Marvel (2019).
Brie Larson stars in Captain Marvel (2019). / Marvel Studios

Things are looking up for women in Hollywood—kind of. Last year proved to be a record one for female protagonists in film, Variety reports. From superhero blockbusters like Captain Marvel to dramedies like The Farewell, 40 percent of 2019’s top-grossing films featured female protagonists. That’s up from 31 percent in 2018, the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film reports.

What’s more, a growing number of studio features included female protagonists (45 percent). About 55 percent of the female protagonists included in the study appeared in independent films. That’s an improvement from last year, Variety reports, when independent films were almost twice as likely as studio features to star female protagonists (68 percent versus 32 percent).

Unfortunately, the good news mostly ends there. In 2019, women made up 34 percent of all speaking roles, a decrease of one percentage point since 2018 (we’re looking at you, Martin Scorsese). Female characters also tend to be younger than their male counterparts; the majority of female characters in 2019 were in their 20s (22 percent) and 30s (31 percent), while the majority of male characters were in their 30s (32 percent) and 40s (26 percent).

The situation looks even bleaker for female characters of color. Hollywood as a whole has shown negligible improvement in racial diversity since 2016. About 68 percent of all female characters in 2019 were white, while about a fifth were black, seven percent were Asian, and five percent were Latina. Those numbers were roughly the same in 2017 and 2018, with slight improvements since 2016.

Women are taking on more leadership roles behind the scenes, though. Women directed 12 percent of 2019’s highest-grossing films, which is eight percent higher than in 2018. An increasing number of women are also taking on roles related to production, cinematography, writing, and editing. As more women and people of color take up leadership roles behind the scenes, it’s likely that on-screen diversity will increase, a report from the University of Southern California suggests.

[h/t Variety]