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Gender distribution lead actors in films in the U.S. 2011-2019

An upward trend in women starring in top movies shows the narrowing gender gap in leading roles from 2011 to 2019. A 2019 report found that 44.1 percent of lead actors in films that year were female, up by more than ten percent in just two years. Despite men still taking the majority of lead acting roles, the figures from 2019 indicate a real departure from previous norms. Looking back to 2011, women made up only 25.6 percent of lead actors in theatrical movies, and little changed until 2016 when the share began to grow consistently each year. This trend follows the rise in women working as movie directors, although the share of women filling these roles remains disproportionate.

The annual study aims to examine how Hollywood is progressing with respect to diversity and representation in the industry by exploring the top 200 movie releases. Despite the improvement in gender representation, proportional representation of people of color in lead roles still lags behind.

Perception of gender equality in Hollywood

With women comprising just over 50 percent of the American population, in order for women to be proportionally represented in in film, an equal share of male and female roles is necessary. However, many Americans feel that Hollywood fails to provide an adequate number of roles for women. Additionally, a significant number of Americans feel that the Hollywood gender pay gap is a serious problem.

A key figure fighting for equality in Hollywood is Scarlett Johansson, who despite being one of the highest grossing actors of all time has noted that she has experienced challenges when attempting to place herself on an even keel with her male counterparts. Her status in the industry is well documented, but the sheer necessity of high-earning leading female figures fighting for equal pay and representation highlights the inequality still prevalent in the industry, and leaves Hollywood with much to improve upon.

Distribution of lead actors in movies in the United States from 2011 to 2019, by gender

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Release date

February 2020


United States

Survey time period

2011 to 2019

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Statistics on "Film industry in the U.S."

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