'Historic low’ report shows women-led films fell to 30% in 2023 | Hollywood - Hindustan Times
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'Historic low’ report shows women-led movies fell to 30% in 2023

Feb 23, 2024 12:01 AM IST

A new study reveals an ‘industry failure’ in terms of championing women-led movies. 2023's top-grossing films chart matched the numbers from 2010.

Despite the past year's conversations being all about the ambitious collaboration of Margot Robbie and Greta Gerwig, leading the feminism talks decked in pink overtones, 2023 hit a ‘historic low’ in delivering women-led films.

Greta Lee (Past Lives), Margot Robbie (Barbie) and Halle Bailey (The Little Mermaid)
Greta Lee (Past Lives), Margot Robbie (Barbie) and Halle Bailey (The Little Mermaid)

And just as the world is reeling from the shock of the Barbie duo's Oscars snub, the latest USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative report has revealed new numbers that will hit you like a wrecking ball. The study maps a steep fall of women in leading roles among 100 top-grossing movies of 2023.

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Of these 100, only 30 titles featured women and girls in lead and co-lead roles. The regressive turn has resulted in plummeting numbers compared to those recorded in 2022 and identical figures to 2010 films.

The research was led by Associate Professor of Communication Stacy L Smith, who said in a press release: “This is a catastrophic step back for girls and women in film.” Despite being the ‘year of the woman’, 2023 failed to bring in better representation and witnessed a sharp reversal.

The study was authored by Katherine L. Neff, Smith, and Dr Katherine Pieper. It traverses 1700 top-grossing movie releases from 2007 to 2023, examining gender, race/ethnicity and age of leading and co-leading stars.

Smith explained that these numbers fairly represent how often career opportunities are offered to women in the movie industry. Even after considering the strikes, the experts failed to see through any plausible reason why this setback had been incurred and declared it an “industry failure”.

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Study on women-led movies of 2023

The research noted one bright spot besides the apparent decline in women-led stories. 37 out of 100 of these films were led/co-led by actors from an underrepresented racial or ethnic group, marking a growth from the number stuck at 31 in 2022. However, this increase in representation “was not driven by content from the legacy studios”; instead, it was brought about by minor contributors and international fare.

WOC representation in top-grossing 2023 movies

Furthermore, this upward graph didn't translate to the case of women of colour (WOC). Only 14 movies had a WOC as the main character, unlike the 18 in 2022. Katherine Neff remarked that not only were the young WOC missing out in this case, but their middle-aged or older counterparts were witnessing a wider erasure.

Variety listed these 14 names: Halle Bailey (The Little Mermaid), Dominique Fishback (Transformer: Rise of the Beasts), Leah Lewis (Elemental), Melissa Barrera (Scream VI), Ariana DeBose (Wish), Fantasia Barrino (The Color Purple), Sophie Wilde (Talk to Me), Storm Reid (Missing), Salma Hayek (Magic Mike's Last Dance), Lana Condor (Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken), Ashley Park (Joy Ride), Ayo Edebiri (Bottoms), Nichole Sakura (Suzume) and Greta Lee (Past Lives). Lily Gladstone from Killers of the Flower Moon was listed as a supporting character; she wasn't counted under this list.

The same study also focussed on the age of the leads/co-leads. The numbers revealed that only three films had a 45-year-old woman (or older) as the protagonist (Keri Russell - Cocaine Bear, Nia Vardalos - My Big Fat Greek Wedding and Salma Hayek - Magic Mike's Last Dance). On top of that, only one was a woman of colour.

On flipping the coin, the study showed that eight films brought in an underrepresented man who was 45 years old (or older) in a leading role. Conversely, 24 movies offered a white man (45 years or older) the space to step in for the main or co-leading role.

Women directors

The report then probed how many films with women and underrepresented leads/co-leads were directed by a filmmaker from the same identity group. Out of the 30 movies led by a girl or woman, 36.7% were helmed by women, whereas men directed the 63.3% majority.

51.3% of the 37 films with underrepresented lead/co-lead were championed by an underrepresented director, whereas 48.7% weren't.

4.3% of movies without a girl or woman lead character had a woman director. On the contrary, 9.5% of films that missed an underrepresented lead had an underrepresented director.

Smith noted that women and POC still face constraints and limitations when compared to their white male peers. These findings further proved that “a change is needed, and quickly", especially since the entertainment industry can significantly champion inclusive and diverse presences on and off the camera.

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