In 2019, the overall number of films featuring a woman increased by 40 percent, an all-time high. Sounds like good news, except for the fact that most of those leading roles went to white women, and the number of speaking roles given to women of color actually decreased from previous years.
According to another study out of San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film—called “It’s a Man’s (Celluloid) World”—68 percent of indie films boasted a female lead in 2019, along with 45 percent of studio releases, up from 55 percent and 31 percent in 2018. However, the study also found that most of those characters were white:
“In 2019, 68% of all female characters were white, an increase of three percentage points from the previous year. By contrast, 20% of female characters were black, a decline of one percentage point from 2018. And while Latina representation increased by one percentage point to 5%, Asian female representation decreased by 3 percentage points from 10% to 7%, on par with the results from 2017. The study authors noted that the increase of Asian female representation in 2018 was largely due to just one film, Crazy Rich Asians.”
The study also found that if a woman isn’t the main character in a film, then there’s a high likelihood she won’t speak at all. Just 37 percent of supporting roles went to women, up one percentage point from last year, and speaking roles for women went down a percentage point to 34 percent.
These latest stats suggest once again that the solution to more diversity in front of the camera is, logically, more diversity behind the camera. Women directors were much more likely to include women in both lead and supporting roles; and while the study didn’t break down the ethnicities of women directors making films, it’s likely that if more women of color were given a chance to make their films, those films would reflect a broader range of human experiences.