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Women are getting more film roles, but only if they’re white

The number of films featuring a woman increased by 40 per cent, but roles for women of colour decreased

Despite there being a record number of queer characters on TV, we still have a long way to go in terms of representation, generally. A new study has revealed that while white women are headlining more films than ever before, the number of speaking roles for women of colour has decreased.

According to a study by San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, the total number of films featuring women have increased by 40 per cent, but most of these leading roles went to white women.

68 per cent of all female characters on screen were white, which is an increase of three per cent compared to the previous year. By contrast, only 20 per cent of female characters were black, and Asian female representation decreased from 10 per cent to seven per cent.

The study also found that if a woman isn’t the main character of a film, it’s likely she won’t speak at all. Only 34 per cent of speaking roles went to women, which is a one per cent decrease from the previous year.

The statistics also suggest that more women in directorial and behind the camera roles would see greater diversity on screen. Women directors were significantly more likely to include women in lead and supporting roles. The report didn't investigate race in this context, but it would be logical that, would women of colour have the opportunity to produce and make their own films, more WoC would be on our screens with a much-needed, expansive range of diverse stories.

In the context of awards season, many of the top contenders for best picture at this year’s Oscars (think 1917, The Irishman, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood) are either entirely male-centirc or feature almost exclusively male characters. You only need to think of Greta Gerwig’s snub at this year’s Golden Globes for her adaptation of Little Women to see what we mean.