Can a girl have it all? Be a superhero and a princess? A hustler and a stripper? And still have the audience come to watch the films? As it turns out, yes. According to the annual report from San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, It’s a Man’s (Celluloid) World, of the top 100 grossing domestic films of 2019, the percentage of films featuring a female protagonist increased to a historic high of 40 per cent, up from 31 per cent the previous year. That figure was bolstered by successes as varied as Captain Marvel and Mary Poppins Returns, Little Women and What Men Want. Surprisingly, the spike came not from indie films, where female protagonists fell from 68 per cent to 55 per cent, but across studio releases. The suits seem to be waking up to the fact that women make blockbuster characters.
That’s the good news. But parse the data, and the old prejudices remain. Hollywood still wants its women to be seen rather than heard — the number of women with speaking roles is a little over one-third, down by one percentage point. Most of the women characters remain overwhelmingly White, with Black, Asian and Latina characters airbrushed out of screens. That ties in with the disappointing no-show of diversity on award lists as well.
But that way lies the path to greater equality. As this report revealed, women at the helm of creative decisions results in stories where women are placed at the centre of the narrative. In films with at least one woman director and/or writer, females comprised 58 per cent of protagonists, as opposed to 30 per cent for films with only male writers/directors. Packing the studios with women will make camera veer to the female gaze.
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