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Movies Starring Women of Color Hit 16-Year High in 2022, Study Finds



The latest Hollywood diversity study actually has some positive news to report: Popular movies starring women of color hit a 16-year high in 2022, according to USC’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative.

The research group’s annual breakdown of the demographics of movie leads has added the latest annual batch of 100 domestic top-grossing films, making “Inequality Across 1,600 Popular Films: Examining Gender, Race/Ethnicity & Age of Leads/Co-Leads From 2007 to 2022” its biggest yet.

The headline — which AI2 noted was ironic given the much-noted shutouts of Black women leads in this year’s Oscars race — is that 16 percent of the 100 most popular movies last year starred women from a historically excluded race or ethnicity, outnumbering the number of movies led or co-led by men of color (14). It should be noted that the 16-film tally does not include the two movies driven by actors who identify as non-binary — Glass Onion (Janelle Monáe) and Bodies Bodies Bodies (Amandla Stenberg) — but does include The Menu by virtue of Anya Taylor-Joy, who has said that she identifies as a white Latina.

“The progress for women of color in leading roles is encouraging,” AI2 founder Stacy L. Smith said in a statement. “Girls and women of color are 20% of the US population, but the film industry has not ensured that this is what audiences see on screen. With effort and accountability, this threshold is one that not only can be achieved but easily surpassed.”

Yet representation in lead roles overall for both women (44 percent) and people of color (29 percent) remained statistically flat and disproportionate to the real-life population (roughly 50 percent and 40.7 percent, respectively). “The lack of progress for women and people of color in leading roles for yet another year is disappointing,” said Katherine L. Neff, the study’s lead author, in a statement. “The film industry must recognize that even though the stories it creates features fantastic locations, audiences in this world still wants to be reflected onscreen.”

In terms of age, whereas 35 movies starred a man who was 45 or older, just 10 were led or co-led by a woman in that age range. However, women of color once again made a strong showing in this subcategory — five of the 10 films — compared to zero of seven in 2021.

Finally, AI2 examined how the major and mini-major distributors — Disney, Lionsgate, Paramount, Sony, Universal and Warner Bros. — fared when it came to releasing movies starring women or people from historically excluded races and ethnicities. Three of the four films in Lionsgate’s 2022 slate (75 percent) were led or co-led by female-identified characters (Warner Bros. came in last, with 16.7 percent), while Disney, Paramount, Sony and Warners tied for share of releases. starring people of color (33.3 percent), with the other two studios close behind.

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