Study Shows Rise in Female Leads or Co-Leads in 2019 Movies, a 13-Year High

The percentage of films with female leads or co-leads reached a 13-year high in 2019, according to a study released Tuesday.

The report was released by the University of Southern California's Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, which conducts research into the inclusion of minorities and women in the media.

Researchers examined the 100 highest-grossing films that were released every year from 2007 to 2019, for a total of 1,300 top films, and focused on which of those films included lead characters played by female actors and actors from "an underrepresented racial/ethnic group."

Of the 100 highest-grossing films of 2019, 43 of them "featured a female lead or co lead [sic]," according to the report. That was more than double the number of top-grossing films with female leads in 2007, which was just 20.

This fact notwithstanding, the report still noted that the percentage of women who led or co-led in films was still slightly lower than the estimated percentage of women who make up the U.S. population (51 percent), as well as the percentage of movie tickets sold to women in North America (47 percent).

Nevertheless, the authors noted that not every sizable ethnic group was represented among the female leads. For example, no female actor who was Native American, Middle Eastern/North African or Pacific Islander had a lead role in one of the top films of 2019.

Additionally, 31 among the top-grossing films of 2019 had leads or co-leads belonging to minority racial or ethnic groups, according to the research. That represented an uptick of 18 percentage points since 2007.

In a statement provided to Newsweek, Dr. Stacy L. Smith, one of the study's authors, explained that the increase in leads from underrepresented communities as well as female leads was reflective of a trend that the initiative found in its report that dealt with films released in 2018. Further, according to Smith, the report is evidence that film companies are begun to see the importance of inclusion.

"The companies that produce and distribute these films have demonstrated that inclusion is an area where they want to grow," said Smith. "Their output now reflects this value, though of course there is still room for progress."

The authors of the report stressed that the most important finding of the research was "that for the first time in more than a decade, film is on par with television with regard to the quantity of stories about girls and women."

The report came just days before the Academy Awards ceremony that had already caused controversy. Some movie fans expressed frustration with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for "snubbing" female actors like Lupita Nyong'o (Us) and Jennifer Lopez (Hustlers) when it came to nominations for Best Actress. Saturday Night Live lampooned the list of Oscar nominees for its lack of diversity, joking that what most of the films had in common was "white male rage."

In a similar vein, some have expressed disappointment that Greta Gerwig, who directed the 2019 adaptation of Little Women, did not receive an Oscar nomination for Best Director. The Annenberg Inclusion Initiative published another report in January that found, since 2007, female directors have been outnumbered by their male counterparts 20 to one.

Town Hall With The Cast Of LittleWomen
Actresses Florence Pugh, Saoirse Ronan, Eliza Scanlen, director Greta Gerwig and Laura Dern attend SiriusXM's Town Hall with the cast of 'Little Women' hosted by SiriusXM's Jess Cagle on December 09, 2019 in New York City. Astrid Stawiarz/Getty