Things are looking up for inclusion and representation when it comes to film. Then again, the only way to go is up when the numbers have been so low for over a decade. In a research brief released by Dr. Stacy L. Smith and the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, the 100 top-grossing films of 2018 were examined. The study took a look at the leading and co-leading characters across these films and focusing on gender and race/ethnicity. Even though the results were something to applaud, there is still plenty of room to advocate for more inclusion and representation in film.
The research brief found that 40 films in 2018 featured a female in a lead or co-lead role, which is an increase from 2017 which only had 32 films that featured a woman in the spotlight. Going off of that, 11 films in 2018 featured a woman of color or from an underrepresented racial/ethnic group in a lead or co-lead role — nearly 3 times as many films as in 2017.
When it came to people of color leading the charge, 28 movies in 2018 featured a lead or co-lead from an underrepresented racial/ethnic group. This is a significant increase from 2017.
The brief also provides information on the 2018 and 12-year performance of major film distributors across gender and race/ethnicity of lead characters.
“2018 offers hope that industry members have taken action to create content that better reflects the world in which we live, and the box office seems to have rewarded them for it,” said Smith. “This data shows us that it is possible for change to be achieved– companies must not grow complacent but continue the progress they have made in 2019 and in the years to come.”
She continued: “It is encouraging that 2018 brought a 12-year high in the number of films with a female lead or co-lead driving the action. Perhaps most notably, we witnessed gains for women of color as leads or co-leads. While there is still a significant amount of change to be accomplished, this represents a step in the right direction toward intersectional inclusion in storytelling.”
The news is encouraging and fuels the recently announced TimesUp 4% Challenge, which was launched last month at the Sundance Film Festival. During the “Making the (In)visible: Radical Transparency in the Data-Driven Age” panel at Sundance, Smith announced the challenge which urges filmmakers to make a commitment work with a female director — especially a female director of color — within 18 months. Smith says from 2007-2018 4% of the directors of 1200 top grossing films were women. Instead of just releasing the study and letting it sit on the shelf, Smith, the Inclusion Initiative, and TimesUp took action to change things. Thus the 4% Challenge was introduced to dramatically move that needle.
Since then, many filmmakers and studios have taken the challenge including Tessa Thompson, Nina Jacobson, Angela Robinson, Paul Feig, Amy Schumer, Franklin Leonard, JJ Abrams, Armie Hammer, Jennifer Lopez, Janet Mock, Universal, Disney, and many more.