Last Year Saw More Leading Roles for Women in Top-Grossing Films, Study Finds

Daisy Ridley in 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens'
Courtesy of © Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All rights reserved.

Looking at the top 100 domestic-grossing movies of 2015, the number of onscreen female protagonists increased but leading women of color remained the same.

Moviegoers were treated to strong female protagonists in 2015, such as Daisy Ridley's Rey in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Charlize Theron's turn as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road. In fact, overall, there was an increase in women who held leading roles onscreen this past year, a study shows.

Dr. Martha M. Lauzen, executive director of Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, compiled the findings of a content analysis that looked at 2,500 characters appearing in the top 100 domestic-grossing films of 2015, foreign films excluded.

Females comprised 22 percent of the protagonists featured in the films studied — an increase of 10 percent compared to 2014, a poor year in terms of female characterization in film. 

For the report, protagonists were defined as characters from whose perspective the story is told. Jennifer Lawrence reprising her role as Katniss Everdeen in the final Hunger Games film and the ensemble cast of Pitch Perfect 2 are further examples of female characters that led box-office successes.  

The 2015 figure is 6 percent higher than in 2002, which stands as a recent historical high for female protagonists in film.

For the first time since the study began in 2002, the sex of the primary antagonist was also looked into, with women accounting for 18 percent of sources of conflict in the films considered.

Overall, females accounted for 33 percent of all speaking characters, a slight increase from the previous year, but the percentage of women of color characters remained largely unchanged. Of the female protagonists seen on film in 2015, 27 percent were black, Latina, Asian or women of other races/ethnicities, while 13 percent of all female characters, leading or otherwise, were black in 2015, up two percentage points.

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