Hollywood's long-standing problem with women — casting them as nebulous, nonspeaking mannequins, if they exist at all — is not as bad as it has been in the past, according to this year's It’s a Man’s (Celluloid) World, a report by Martha Lauzen, executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University.
"We will need to see a couple more years of data before we’ll know whether this is the beginning of an upward trend or if 2015 was an unusually good but aberrant year for female characters," Lauzen said.
The annual report found that women comprised more than one in five (22 percent) of protagonists in the 100 top-grossing films of last year, a huge increase of 10 percentage points compared with 2014.
However, San Diego State notes in a statement that 2014 "was an exceptionally poor year for women in these roles."
Women were 34 percent of "major characters" and 33 percent of speaking players in the top 100 films last year, the report says. Those figures represent 5 and 3 percentage-point bumps, respectively, compared with 2014.
But what kind of roles were they? The report:
Gender stereotypes were prevalent in the top-grossing films of 2015. Moviegoers were more likely to know the occupation of male characters than female characters, and more likely to know the marital status of females than males. In addition, moviegoers were much more likely to see male characters at work and actually working than female characters.
The analysis comes as Hollywood is grappling with major criticism about film and TV's lack of diversity. For the second year in a row, Oscar acting nominations have shut out people of color. Some have called for a boycott of the Academy Awards on Feb. 28.
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The San Diego State report found that there was little improvement when it came to casting women of color in the top 100 films.
There was "a slight increase in black female characters (from 11 percent in 2014 to 13 percent in 2015), no change in the percentage of Latina characters (4 percent in 2014 and 2015) and a slight decrease in the percentage of Asian female characters (from 4 percent in 2014 to 3 percent in 2015)," the school stated.
Minority women also were less likely, of course, to be "major characters," according to the university.
There's always next year.