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Number of films with female leads reaches record high in 2016

Study shows that 29% of films in 2016 had a woman as the lead character.

Last year was a record year for the number of films with female leads, according to a new study.

The research, carried out by San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, found that 29% of the top 100 grossing films of 2016 in the US featured a female protagonist.

This is 7% up on the previous year, and a recent historical high (the research goes back to 2002). 54% of films featured a male protagonist, with 17% of films ensembles.

The study defined a protagonist as the “character from whose perspective the story is told”.

In 2016, the study found that women played 37% of major characters, a 3% increase and another historical high. Major characters had to appear in more than one scene and be instrumental to the action of the story.

However, the percentage of female characters in speaking roles (major and minor) was 32%, down one percentage point from 2015.

The diversity picture was also mixed. The percentage of Asian females doubled from 3% in 2015 to 6% in 2016, with the number of black female characters also increasing slightly to 14%. The percentage of Latina characters declined from 4% in 2015 to 3% in 2016.

A total of 76% of female characters were white in 2016, the same as the previous year.

The study threw up some other thought-provoking statistics about the way men and women are presented in Hollywood films.

For example, female characters remained younger than male characters, with only 32% of female roles aged 40 or over, compared to 52% of male characters.

Meanwhile, 32% of female characters were in their 30s, compared to just 20% in their 40s.

The study showed that film audiences were much more likely to know the marital status of a female character. 68% of male roles had an unknown marital status, compared to 54% of women.

Men are also much more likely to be seen working than women. 61% of male characters were seen in a workplace setting, compared to 45% of women.

The research follows a damning study (also from San Diego State) released earlier this year showing that the number of women directors declined in 2016.  Women directed only 7% of the 250 top grossing films in the US, falling from 9% in 2015.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, fronted by Felicity Jones, was the highest grossing film of the year in the US in 2016.

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