A New Study Proves That Hollywood Is Still Sexist

Only a third of movies made in 2022 featured female protagonists.

By Chris Snellgrove | Updated

hollywood diversity movies in 2022

At a glance, you might think Hollywood has moved more towards gender equality, especially with major films centering on women ranging from Black Widow to Encanto to Everything Everywhere All At Once. But it turns out that despite these prominent women in prominent roles, the world of Hollywood is still very sexist. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the San Diego State’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film released a report revealing that only a third of the movies in 2022 featured female protagonists.

And when they examined movies in 2022 by other criteria, it painted a similar picture. For example, when it comes to characters who simply speak any dialogue, 37 percent of female characters spoke compared to 63 percent of male characters. And when it comes to major characters in films (characters who appear multiple times and are “instrumental to the story’s action”), only 38 percent were female.

Michelle Yeoh Stephanie Hsu and Ke Huy Quan Everything Everywhere All at Once
Everything Everywhere All at Once

While this report focused on movies in 2022, the San Diego State’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film has been monitoring Hollywood movies since 2002. And the center’s findings for last year are generally consistent with their findings from the past five years. On the bright side, while these numbers aren’t great, they are improving over time: back in 2002, only 16 percent of movies released had major female characters, and that was mostly due to popular films such as Maid in Manhattan and Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood.

And when it comes to movies in 2022, you might be surprised at which genre was likeliest to feature major female characters. Horror movies are likelier to have female leads than male leads at 43 percent to 4 percent. In fact, horror films featuring male protagonists (such as Nope starring Daniel Kaluuya, and Beast starring Idris Elba) are actually the exception to the rule of a genre that typically focuses on a “final girl.”

When further digging into the movies in 2022, the center made some interesting findings about the race of women in Hollywood features. According to the study, 64.2% of female roles were white, and the number of speaking roles for Hollywood’s women of color seemed to be decreasing. The drop is most notable heading into 2022 because 2021 featured big movies with prominent roles for women of color, including West Side Story, In the Heights, and even The Last Dragon, but 2022’s female-centric movies seemed to be mostly a caucasian occasion.

While it’s impossible to predict the future, we can’t help but think the success of certain movies in 2022 is going to have a positive effect on future roles for women, and especially women of color. The best example of this is the breakout success of Everything Everywhere All At Once, a movie whose protagonist, Michelle Yeoh, is a 60-year-old Chinese actor…basically, the opposite of the 30-something white female protagonists populating most motion pictures. That movie’s immense success shows how much audiences are hungry for something different from Hollywood, and that might finally usher in an era of more and better roles for women on the silver screen.