Female Characters in Top Grossing Films Drop in 2017 (Study)

Oscar - Contending Wardrobe - Wonder Woman-GAL GADOT - Publicity-H 2018
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Ratpac-Dune Entertainment LLC

Females comprised 24 percent of protagonists featured in the 100 top domestic grossing films of 2017, a decline of 5 percentage points from 2016.

While 2017 saw the release of female-fronted studio releases like Wonder Woman, The Last Jedi and Girls Trip, a study out Thursday has found that female representation onscreen actually dropped last year. 

According to SDSU's Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, females comprised 24 percent of protagonists featured in the 100 top domestic-grossing films of 2017, a decline of 5 percentage points from 2016. The study classifies protagonists as the "characters from whose perspective the story is told."  

While female representation onscreen is disproportionate to male counterparts, diversity among those women protagonist is dismal.

The vast majority of major female characters (those who appear in more than one scene and are instrumental to the action of the story) were white, at 74 percent. Only slight gains were made in representation among female characters of color seen onscreen. The percentage of black female characters increased from 14 percent in 2016 to 16 percent in 2017, while Latinas more than doubled from 3 percent to 7 percent and Asian women increased from 6 percent to 7 percent. 

Female protagonists were more likely to appear in independent features (65 percent) than studio features (35 percent), and were more likely to lead dramas and comedies (30 percent) than sci-fi features (4 percent). 

In terms of fixing onscreen female representation, the SDSU study (along with every one that has come before it) points to greater female representation behind the camera. In films with at least one woman director and/or writer, females comprised 45 percent of protagonists, compared to exclusively male creative teams that produced films where women made up 20 percent of protagonists.