Last year was an empowering year for women in Hollywood. But the year’s top films may not have reflected as much.
The number of female protagonists in the 100 highest-grossing films fell five percentage points in 2017, according to a new report from San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film.
Women made up 24 percent of featured protagonists, defined for the study’s purposes as characters from whose perspective the story is told. It sounds odd, given that the three most popular films of last year’s domestic box office list each featured a woman in a lead role:
• Rey in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”
• Belle in “Beauty and the Beast”
• Diana Prince of “Wonder Woman.”
The study analyzed more than 2,300 characters in those 100 films and female representation did not improve much in 2017. About 37 percent of all major characters were women, the same number as in 2016, while the percentage of speaking characters increased two points to 34 percent.
In fact, moviegoers were almost twice as likely to see male characters on screen.
Female characters also remained younger than their male equivalents. Most women on screen were in their 20s (32 percent) or 30s (25 percent), whereas men tended to be in their 30s (31 percent) or 40s (27 percent). Women 40 and older accounted for 29 percent of all female characters, while the same age for men reached 46 percent.
Among those top 100 movies, indie films accounted for 65 percent of sole female protagonists, vs. studio features’ 35 percent. Their male counterparts were more likely to appear in studio projects (54 percent) than indies (46 percent).
This year’s Oscar nominations highlight several of the female indie film characters, such as Lady Bird McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) of “Lady Bird,” Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) of “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” and more.
Racial diversity improved among on-screen women in 2017. The percentage of white characters dropped eight percentage points from 2016, coming in at 68 percent. The percentage of black women jumped up two percentage points, reaching 16 percent. Latina and Asian women each represented 7 percent of all characters, a four percentage-point increase for the former and a one-point increase for the latter.
In movies with at least one female director or writer, women made up 45 percent of protagonists and 48 percent of major characters. In films directed or written entirely by men, women made up 20 percent of protagonists and 33 percent of major characters.