Female-Led Films Hit A Historic High In 2016

But let's put that good news in context...

amy adams arrival

by Katie Rosseinsky |

The number of female leads on film hit an all-time high in 2016, according to a new study.

The Centre for the Study of Women in Television and Film found that 29 percent of the year’s 100 top highest grossing films were fronted by women, marking a seven percent leap from last year’s study and setting a new record.

This seemingly small but significant step forward for women on screen comes after the success of films like Arrival, led by Amy Adams, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, starring Felicity Jones, and the all-female Ghostbusters reboot, hopefully proving to over-cautious studios that female-led films can prove lucrative at the box office.

Women were also found to account for 37 percent of major characters, featuring in more than one scene and proving instrumental to the outcome of the story, an increase of three percent from last year.

Films with at least one female director or writer were – unsurprisingly – more likely to feature women in major roles. In these productions, women made up 57 percent of the protagonists; in films with male directors and writers, they made up just 18 percent.

hidden figures
Hidden Figures

Many of this year’s hotly tipped awards favourites are led by female characters, including Jackie, La La Land and Hidden Figures, co-written by Allison Schroeder, the only female screenwriter on this year’s Oscar ballot.

‘While audiences were still more than twice as likely to see male characters as female characters in top-grossing movies, females fared betters as protagonists and major characters in 2016,’ study author Martha Lauzen said in a statement.

The study’s findings, however, weren’t entirely positive, particularly when it comes to better representation on screen. 76 percent of all female characters were white, the number of Asian women doubled from three to six percent and the percentage of black women increased by one, to 14 percent.

As Lauzen puts it, ‘the findings for race and ethnicity were a mixed bag. The percentage of Asian female characters doubled in 2016, and the percentage of black female characters increased slightly, but the percentage of Latina characters decreased slightly.’

‘It is possible that this is something of a quirk that we will not see repeated in the future. It is also possible that introducing female protagonists is somehow an easier, less threatening fix than hiring women directors and writers,’ she added.

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