After a severe absence of nominations for diverse actors and actresses at the BAFTAs and the Oscars this season, the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative has released a research brief that shows there was no excuse for this considering 2019 was a banner year for underrepresented voices in lead and co-lead film roles.
The study took a look at the 100 top-grossing films of 2019 and found that 31 films had an underrepresented lead or co-lead. That compares with 27 in 2018 and 13 in 2007, in indication of significant strides being made. In addition, 16 films had a lead or co-lead actor who was an underrepresented female, compared with 11 movies in 2018 and just one in 2007.
Looking further into the representation of females in 2019, 43 of the top 100 films had a female lead/co-lead, a 13-year high. In 2018, 39 films had a female lead or co-lead, while 20 movies in 2007 had a female at the center. This uptick in women puts film on the same level as TV content with regard to the presence of girls and women in leading roles.
“It is clear that Hollywood is taking steps to create more inclusive stories and that those films are connecting with audiences,” said Dr. Stacy L. Smith, founder of the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative. “Yet, there is also a very obvious disconnect between what sells tickets and what garners awards points to a systemic bias at cultural institutions like the BAFTAs or the Academy Awards. After another year in which the major studios increased their output of films with female and underrepresented leads or co-leads, it is critical to recognize that talent is not limited by gender or race/ethnicity.”
The brief examines the 100 top-grossing films from 2007-2019 and includes an examination of films with single or co-leading characters. It should be noted that ensemble films were excluded. The gender, race/ethnicity and age of the leading and co-leading actors were also examined.
In addition, the brief also assesses box office earnings by distributor for the top films of 2019 with female or underrepresented leads and co-leads. Walt Disney Studios was at the head of the pack, banking $4.1 billion for its female-driven content. That is light-years ahead of the highest-grossing distributor — four times more, to be exact. Disney also earned $2.7 billion for its films with underrepresented leads/co-leads, which is nearly twice to four times as much as the releases with underrepresented leads from other major film companies.
Universal had top marks, distributing a greater quantity of films with leading characters who were female and/or from underrepresented backgrounds than other studios, with nine movies starring girls and women and eight with people of color in leading or co-leading roles.
This is all good news for underrepresented talent in front of the camera, but it is a different story for the director’s chair — specifically for women.
“The results of this brief reveal that studios are putting money behind inclusion and that the box office is responding in kind. Despite the increase in female-led movies last year, only 12 of 2019’s top-grossing directors were women,” said Smith. “As the number of films starring women continues to increase, it is critical that women get the opportunity to tell these stories—as well as those with male leads.”
The full report can be read here.