What do Hidden Figures, Arrival, and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story have in common? They were all released last year, they were all box office successes, and they all featured female protagonists. New research shows that these films, and others like them, exemplify some positive changes in women's representation on the big screen.
According to a study by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, 29 percent of protagonists in 2016's top 100 highest-grossing films were female. That was a seven percentage point improvement over 2015's numbers, and, according to the study, represents "a recent historical high."
The year also saw improvement in supporting roles. Women made up 37 percent of major characters, up three percentage points from the year before. However, the number of women in speaking roles was down one point from the year before, at 32 percent. Female characters were also less likely to be shown at work or in leadership positions, and skewed younger than male characters.
Women of color, meanwhile, saw improved representation for some groups (Asian female characters increased from three to six percent, Black female characters from 13 to 14), but not others (Latina characters declined from four to three percent).
Obviously, there's still plenty of room for improvement across the board. Women make up more than half the population of the United States, as well as the majority of moviegoers, so it only makes sense for their onscreen representation to more accurately reflect those numbers.
The key to bringing these stats even higher could be the presence of more women behind the camera, as the study found that female filmmakers tended to feature more female characters. In movies with at least one female director and/or writer, for example, women made up 57 percent of protagonists, as opposed to 18 percent among movies with exclusively male writers and directors.
Unfortunately, women aren't just struggling for leadership positions on screen — they're also facing extremely disappointing numbers off screen. Women only accounted for seven percent of the directors behind last year's top 250 films. That's a two percent decline from 2015.
While there may be signs of progress in some areas, there is still a lot of work to be done in Hollywood. And considering it's the year 2017, it really shouldn't be taking this long.