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Despite Oscar Snub For Viola Davis And Other Black Performers, Actresses Of Color Made Gains In 2022

A list of actors names appears in white on a black screen next to a gold statuette
The nominations for actress in a leading role during the 95th Academy Awards nominations announcement Beverly Hills on Jan. 24th.
(Valerie Macon
AFP via Getty Images)
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Viola Davis, the star of The Woman King, was considered a nearly certain lock for a best actress Oscar nomination. So, too, was Danielle Deadwyler from Till. Neither made the cut, however, which some critics saw as proof of continued Academy Award bias toward Black performers.

Yet Hollywood studios were more accommodating, according to a new report from USC’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative. Its latest study of the 100 highest-grossing releases from 2022 found that 16% of those titles featured a female performer from an underrepresented racial/ethnic group in a leading or co-leading role.

That represents a nearly 50% improvement from the previous year, and the highest overall percentage of non-white actresses since the USC initiative began its analysis 16 years ago.

That said, the gains for women overall were fleeting, and older women continued to land far fewer parts than men the same age.

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Among all of last year’s 100 highest-grossing releases, 44% featured a female lead or co-lead, a small change from 41% of the most popular films in 2021. (Women make up slightly more than half of the U.S. population.)

Still, last year’s numbers were materially better than one of the first study years, 2007, when only a fifth of the top releases had a woman in a prominent role.

About three dozen films from 2022 starred a man aged 45 years or older in a leading or co-leading role. But their female contemporaries were nowhere to be seen, as just 10 movies starred or co-starred a woman 45 and older. Top Gun: Maverick is one of the rare exceptions: Tom Cruise is 60, while his co-star, Jennifer Connelly, is 52. Bullet Train is one of the rules: Brad Pitt is 59, while his co-star, Joey King, is 23.

Do the stories that Hollywood tells about itself really reflect what's going on?

“The progress for women of color in leading roles is encouraging,” Stacy Smith, one of the authors of the report, said in a statement. “It’s past time for the film industry to recognize that stories about women of color have a place in theaters. Girls and women of color are 20% of the U.S. population, but the film industry has not ensured that this is what audiences see on screen. With effort and accountability, this threshold is one that not only can be achieved but easily surpassed.”

What questions do you have about film, TV, music, or arts and entertainment?
John Horn, entertainment reporter and host of our weekly podcast Retake, explores whether the stories that Hollywood tells about itself really reflect what's going on?

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