Movies With (White) Women Leads Reached a 'Historical High' in 2016

Image via Fox 2000 Pictures
Image via Fox 2000 Pictures

Some of the biggest movies last year had women in lead roles and somehow they still made money.


Among the top 100 films of 2016 (the ones that grossed the most), 29% starred women, according to research from the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, which calls this “a recent historical high.” The percentage was 7% lower in 2015.

Variety reports:

Women also found themselves better represented in ensembles, with actresses making up 37% of major characters in the most popular films, a 3 percentage points jump from the previous year, and another historical high. The percentage of female characters in speaking roles was essentially flat at 32%, down one percentage point from 2015.

(Last year, the same study found that women were increasingly being cast in lead roles.)

It’s true, Arrival had a woman (Amy Adams), as did Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Felicity Jones), and Hidden Figures even had three (Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe).

The study also found that the best genre for women to front are comedies. Women are funny?

Female protagonists were most likely to appear in comedies (28%), dramas (24%), horror films (17%), animated features (14%), and science fiction films (14%). They were least likely to be in action films, with only 3% of those movies having female leads.


The study’s author Martha Lauzen notes that women are “not being relegated to a single genre like romantic comedies. Their fate is not tied to the fortunes of a single genre, and that suggests a more stable pattern.”

There are always caveats to progress:

The advances in roles for women didn’t necessarily translate into more racial diversity. The number of Asian female characters doubled to 6% in 2016, while the number of Black female characters rose a percentage point to 14%. Yet the number of Latina characters fell from 4% to 3%.


The study also states that “76% of all female characters were White in 2016. This represents no change from 2015.”

In addition, women directed only 7% of the top 250 films of 2016, a two percent drop from 2015. Lauzen says it’s “possible that introducing female protagonists is somehow an easier, less threatening fix than hiring women directors and writers.”

Culture Editor, Jezebel



it’s “possible that introducing female protagonists is somehow an easier, less threatening fix than hiring women directors and writers.”

It is so enraging to live in a world where hiring female directors and writers seems really difficult, while Mel fucking Gibson continues to work and is nominated for an Oscar.