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With the last year being an all time high in roles for women, Jessica Cripps looks at the successes of 2016 – while understanding there’s still a long way to go.

2016, for all its drama, was a good year for women on the big screen. Cinema goers were more likely to be watching a film featuring a female protagonist than ever before, with numbers of both heroines and major female characters at an all-time high.

The number of female characters given major plotlines improved to another all-time high

Up from 2015, 29 percent of lead roles were taken by women across almost all genres of film – not just the hackneyed chick-flick romance. Films such as Hidden Figures, The Girl on the Train and the female revamp of Ghostbusters all contributed to the highest ever number of lead women on screen.

However, it is Felicity Jones’ action-packed portrayal of Jyn Erso in the much anticipated Rogue One: A Star Wars Story that proved the highest grossing heroine of the year.

Meanwhile, the number of female characters given major plotlines also improved to another all-time high, making up 37 percent of major characters. Margot Robbie’s spunky portrayal as Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad garnered hype months before the films’ release, while Katherine Waterston won fans’ hearts as former-Auror Porpentina ‘Tina’ Goldstein in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. I, Daniel Blake and Collateral Beauty also harnessed the power of women in their gritty storytelling.

However, a year after Patricia Arquette used her big Oscar win to call for wage equality and equal rights for women, the number of overall speaking roles given to females on screen fell to 32 percent. If 2015 is anything to go by, their pay cheques probably didn’t match up either.

A third year English student commented, ‘There is absolutely institutionalised misogyny in Hollywood. They think people only want to see films with a male lead, with a female sidekick for him to lean on.’

Anonymous added, ‘There’s this perception that a female lead will be boring to watch. I don’t know why, but it’s there.’

There is still some work to be done until the onscreen world is justifiably representative

So, will 2017 be a new opportunity to even the score?

Female ensemble casts look likely to dominate in the year ahead. While the ‘bachelorette party gone awry’ premise of Rock That Body appears a little similar to the male-orientated The Hangover, the choice to let female comedy finally be handled by female writer-director, Lucia Aniello, may conjure up hilarity that moves away from mimicry territory.

The genre is crying out for women to put a stamp on their own comedy and move away from the drunk-and-bawdy stereotype. With Scarlett Johansson starring, this could be an opportunity for a fresh take on an overworked theme.

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While it is unclear how many overall speaking parts will fall to women, the coming year has already gathered attention for the live-action Beauty and the Beast, which will see Emma Watson transform into the protagonist ‘beauty’ Belle. However, using the opportunity to make her own stand for the portrayal of women, it was allegedly a concern for Emma that Belle be more than just a pretty face.

She was so intent that Belle be ‘true to women’ that she sought approval of her performance from iconic feminist Gloria Steinem, Vanity Fair reported.

With the majority of film appearances still falling to men, it is clear that there is still some work to be done until the onscreen world is justifiably representative of the remaining 50 percent of the real-world population. Roll on, 2017.


What should be done to address inequality in Hollywood?

Let us and @jessiecee3 know on @EpigramFilm.

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