Story at a glance

  • A new study revealed that the number of female lead actors in 2020’s top grossing films dropped by 27 percent from 2019.
  • Martha Lauzen, executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, found that the 2020 statistic matches the 2016 mark.
  • “As protagonists in films, females took a step back in 2020, after two consecutive years of growth,” Lauzen said.

A new study revealed that the number of female lead actors in 2020’s top grossing films dropped by 27 percent from 2019, after making significant strides following the #MeToo movement. 

Martha Lauzen, executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, found that the 2020 statistic matches the 2016 mark with female actors occupying 29 percent of lead roles in films leading at the box office, Deadline reported.

“As protagonists in films, females took a step back in 2020, after two consecutive years of growth,” Lauzen said. “This decline is reflected in the low number of female-driven films nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. Only two films on this year’s slate of nominees, Nomadland and Promising Young Woman, feature female protagonists.”

Lauzen’s report, titled “It’s a Man’s (Celluloid) World,” discovered only 17 percent of the highest grossing movies in 2020 had a majority of female characters — 5 percent had equal representation. 


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Lauzen also found a gendered difference in visibility of actors over the age of 40 in the year’s biggest movies. The study showed that actors over 40 made up more than 50 percent of all male characters in the top 100 grossing films in the U.S. Meanwhile, female actors in the same age bracket accounted for 32 percent of female roles in that category, Deadline reported.  

“We see a handful of mature female actresses and assume that ageism has declined in Hollywood,” Lauzen said. “But unless your last name happens to be Streep or McDormand, chances are you’re not working much in film.”

The number of Black female roles also declined, according to the study — falling from 20 percent in 2019 to 17 percent in 2020, according to Deadline. But Lauzen noted a slight overall increase of 1 percent in the number of female characters holding speaking roles overall in the industry.

The study also noted a distinct difference in the way gender roles were portrayed. Lauzen found that 73 percent of male characters had an obvious job, while only 57 percent of female characters were easily identified in their occupations, Deadline reported. 


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Published on Apr 13, 2021