Women and people of color led 2018 movies in record numbers, says new study


‘‘Show them who we are,” said the titular superhero in the hit Marvel movie “Black Panther.” The same can be said of underrepresented communities in 2018’s top films, as new data shows that last year’s biggest movies starred more women and people of color than in any other year since 2007.

According to research released Tuesday, diversity and inclusion took the lead in record numbers across the 100 top-grossing films released in 2018. The study — conducted by USC’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative — examined the gender and race/ethnicity of each movie’s leading and co-leading characters.

“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,” said Stacy L. Smith, founder and director of the initiative in a statement Tuesday. “Perhaps most notably, we witnessed gains for women of color as leads or co-leads.”


The findings were compared to the top-grossing films released annually since 2007, when the initiative began tracking representation onscreen.

In 2018, a record 28 hit movies featured a lead or co-lead from an underrepresented racial/ethnic group. That’s up from 21 movies in 2017 and 13 in 2007.

Female representation was also up, as 40 of 2018’s top films featured a female in the lead or a co-lead role. That’s also an increase from 2017 (32 movies) and 2007 (20).

Intersectional inclusion also saw an uptick: Eleven of the year’s top films featured a female lead or co-lead from an underrepresented racial/ethnic group (compared with four in 2017). Eleven films also starred women over the age of 44 (up from five in 2017).


It’s no coincidence that 2018 broke records not only in diverse representation onscreen but also in box-office grosses. Last year’s movie ticket sales in the U.S. and Canada soared to $11.8 billion, a growth of 6% from the previous year and above the previous record of $11.4 billion in 2016. (This correlates to a previous study from another research group, which found that movies starring women make more money than those starring men.)

“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,” Smith of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative said in Tuesday’s statement.

“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.”

Top-grossing movies such as “Crazy Rich Asians” and “A Wrinkle in Time” helped boost the year’s statistics regarding women of color onscreen.

Still, such findings are just the beginning in more widespread representation onscreen. Smith concluded in her statement, “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.”


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