The number of underrepresented and female leads increased in Hollywood last year, according to a report by the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative.
The report, which analyzed 1,300 top films from 2007 to 2019, found that 43 films cast female leads and co-leads, a 10% increase from 2018 and a 115% increase from 2007. Sixteen of those female leads/co-leads were from underrepresented groups.
Thirty-one films had an underrepresented lead or co-lead. This is an increase from 27 in 2018 and 13 films in 2007.
“It is clear that Hollywood is taking steps to create more inclusive stories and that those films are connecting with audiences,” the group’s founder, Stacy Smith, said in a release. She founded the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative as a think tank studying diversity and inclusion in entertainment through research.
While the industry is making progress, women are still excluded from some award categories, such as with this year’s Oscars nominations, wherein no women were nominated in the director category. Historically, there have only been five women nominated in this category, and only one of them won the award.
“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 report also assessed box office earnings by the distributors for the top 2019 films with female or underrepresented leads or co-leads. It found that only one studio outperformed its competitors in both categories. The Walt Disney Studios brought in $4.1 billion with its female-driven content -- more than four times as much as the next highest-grossing distributor, according to the report.
At USC, Claire Valez, a business in cinematic arts student, said she was not surprised by the findings. As a Spanish woman, she said she has found it harder to get internships than her male counterparts, which dominate her major.
Another student, Eden Burkow, a junior and founder of the student publication Genzine, said she feels that Hollywood’s focus on specific actors and actresses is making it difficult for diversity to prevail on screen.
“A lot of the disconnect stems from this place that Hollywood likes to token people. And so, when they cast roles, they're casting them with this intention of they'll be my token so-and-so,” Burkow said.
Directors and producers hope that having those token or popular cast members will make their film stand out, and often Hollywood falls for the trap and confuses a token minority for diversity on screen, she said.
Valez said as a woman going into the industry she knows it will take a lot of work to succeed, which is why it's important for aspiring filmmakers to create their own content.
“It’s like start creating more… and being more confident and putting their own work out,” she said.