Women in film: Female leads got a boost in 2016, but total female speaking roles down

The Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film took a close look at the 100 highest grossing films of 2016 to analyze female representation in front of the camera, and there’s good news and bad news. Only 29% of sole protagonists in the year’s top films were women — less than a third. That’s compared to 54% of films with male protagonists and 17% ensemble films. As low as that is, however, it still represents a 7% boost from 2015, and it’s the highest in recent years.

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The two highest grossing films of 2016 domestically were both fronted by women — “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” ($528 million) and “Finding Dory” ($486 million) — but the new study didn’t stop with protagonists. It also measured major characters who “appear in more than one scene and are instrumental to the action of the story” and found that women assumed 37% of those roles. That’s a little more than half the number of major characters who were men (63%), but that too is 3% better than the year before.

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The news was less favorable when it comes to overall speaking roles. Just 32% of those were women, down 1% from 2015. And the findings were similarly mixed for women of color. The representation of Asian women doubled (3% to 6%), and black women saw slight improvement (13% to 14%), but Latina characters were down (4% to 3%).

Oscar Best Picture Gallery: History of Every Academy Award-Winning Movie

These findings aren’t all that surprising when you look at this year’s Oscars, where only two of the nine Best Picture nominees are fronted solely by women (“Arrival” and “Hidden Figures”), and only one other nominee has a female co-lead (“La La Land”). The other six nominees are led exclusively by men: “Fences,” “Hacksaw Ridge,” “Hell or High Water,” “Lion,” “Manchester by the Sea” and “Moonlight.”

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Be sure to make your Oscar predictions. Weigh in now with your picks so that Hollywood insiders can see how their films are faring in our Oscar odds. You can keep changing your predictions right up until just before winners are announced on February 26 at 5:00 pm PT/8:00 pm ET. And join in the fierce debate over the Oscars taking place right now with Hollywood insiders in our forums.

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