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2018 Was a Record-Breaking Win For Diversity in Hollywood

Women and people of color are finding their way to the lead roles in U.S. movies.

The top films in 2018 featured a record number of females and people of color in lead roles, according to a new study from the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative. In a report released Tuesday, Feb 12, researchers found that women were the lead or co-lead in 40 of the 100 highest-grossing films of 2018. That’s an increase of eight movies from 2017 and 20 movies from 2007, when the annual study began.

There were 28 films with leads or co-leads from an underrepresented racial or ethnic group in 2018. This was also a substantial increase from the previous year and the highest mark on record.

Step in the Right Direction but Progress Still Needed

Those numbers still fall short of reflecting demographics. Women make up about 51 percent of the U.S. population. People of color make up about 39 percent of the population. LGBTQIA people and disabled persons comprise 3.4 percent and 18.7 percent of the U.S. population, respectively.

These gains reflect last year’s record box-office returns, including the mega blockbuster Black Panther, which also became the first superhero movie to be nominated for Best Picture at this year’s Academy Awards. The breakout romantic comedy Crazy Rich Asians was also a huge critical and commercial success.

Stacy L. Smith, director of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, called the results “a step in the right direction.”

“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.”

Some of the largest increases came in more narrow demographics. Eleven of the top 100 films starred a woman of color. In 2017 there were four. The same number of films, 11, featured female leads aged 45 years or older. In 2017 there were five.

Although there certainly were big hit films last year that featured previously underrepresented groups, it’s never a guarantee that Hollywood will feel confident moving forward with that trend.

In 2011 Bridesmaids became a massive critical and commercial hit, featuring an all-female lead cast, which was even more unusual for a feature comedy. Since then there hasn’t been a truly similar example of that caliber, but 2018’s numbers suggest another one is right around the corner.


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