The number of top-grossing movies starring women and women of color increased slightly last year, according to an annual study released Thursday from the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at USC, but the number of films starring people of color decreased.
Of the 100 top-earning domestic movies released in 2022, 44% featured female-identified actors in leading or co-leading roles, compared to 41% that did in 2021—under the 50% of the U.S. population women make up.
This is an improvement from 2007, when just 20% of the top 100 movies had women in leading or co-leading roles.
Of those same 100 films, 29% featured an actor from an underrepresented racial or ethnic group in a leading or co-leading role, down from 32% in 2021 but up from 13% in 2007, and notably below the 40.7% that these groups make up in the U.S. population.
The largest increase was for women of color: 16 of the top 100 movies in 2022 featured a woman of color in a leading role, up from the 11 that did in 2021; two movies also featured nonbinary actors in leading or co-leading roles.
Women over the age of 45 starred in 10 of the top films last year, compared to 35 movies that featured men in this age group in leading roles.
31%. That’s how many of the top 100 films per year since 2007—1,600 in total—starred a woman or girl.
Women and people of color have historically been excluded from leading roles in films, as well as in the director’s chair. In 2015, the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite went viral, when the Academy—whose voting members were overwhelmingly white—nominated 20 white actors for its honors. The creator of the movement, April Reign, wrote for Varietyin 2020 that she has often received pushback along the lines of: “Well, there just weren’t enough diverse films to nominate.” And while people of color are still underrepresented, there has been progress, making their exclusion from awards shows a noticeable problem. “When we have this wealth of talent in front of and behind the camera, and they are still not recognized by what is considered the pinnacle in the industry, then we need to take a closer examination” of the Academy and the industry, Reign wrote. In 2018, Natalie Portman made headlines when she called out the “all-male nominees” when presenting the Golden Globe for Best Director. The Oscars did not nominate any women in its Best Directing category this year.
“The pace of industry change is certainly not a breakneck one,” the Annenberg study said. “The advocacy and activism that may have fueled change in the mid- to late-2010s may have had a short-term impact, but more is needed to achieve lasting improvement.”
Some of the 2022 films led by women of color included Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Nope, Scream, Everything Everywhere All At Once and The Woman King. These performances were awarded at last month’s Golden Globes, where winners included Michelle Yeoh (Best Actress in a Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy) and Angela Bassett (Best Actress in a Supporting Role in Any Motion Picture), who were both also nominated for Oscars.
By Marisa Dellatto, Forbes Africa