2019 movies: Women didn't talk much - study

Quentin Tarantino got snappy with a reporter who questioned Margot Robbie's lack of lines in 'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood'.
Quentin Tarantino got snappy with a reporter who questioned Margot Robbie's lack of lines in 'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood'. Photo credit: Getty

A new study shows that old habits die hard in Hollywood - despite the recent advancements, women appear to be continually denied a voice in film and television.

The 'It's a Man's (Celluloid) World' study, conducted by Dr Martha M Lauzen, found that across the top-grossing films of 2019, only 34 percent of all speaking characters were women - while men accounted for 66 percent.

The statistics also reflect a 1 percent decrease in speaking female characters within a year. According to Lauzen's data, the most significant steps in recent times were made between 2011 and 2015, with the percentage of women speaking in films rising from 27 percent to 33 percent. 

The report, commissioned by the San Diego State University's Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, found only 37 percent of all major characters across last year's blockbusters were women - up from 2018 by a 1 percent increment. 

Males comprised 63 percent of all major characters.

However, the percentage of top-grossing films featuring female protagonists rose to a historic high, increasing from 31 percent in 2018 to 40 percent in 2019. Forty-three percent of films featured male protagonists, while 17 percent had an ensemble cast.

Yet despite the increase in leading ladies, the study still concluded that "audiences were almost twice as likely to see male characters as female characters in the top-grossing films of 2019". 

In regards to diversity, Caucasian actresses continued to dominate, with 68 percent of all female characters with dialogue being white. Twenty percent were black, 5 percent were Latina, 7 percent were Asian and 1 percent were "other". 

Following the 2019 Cannes Film Festival premiere of Quentin Tarantino's acclaimed Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, a New York Times journalist asked Tarantino why the Oscar-nominated Margot Robbie had such a small amount of dialogue in her role as the late Sharon Tate.

Tarantino, 56, defended Tate's characterisation, saying audiences could instead "spend a little time with her, just existing".

"I thought it would be both touching and pleasurable... I didn't come up with a big story," the director told Deadline.

'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood' promotional shot.
'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood' promotional shot. Photo credit: Sony Pictures

The debut of Martin Scorcese's critically-lauded project, The Irishman, also attracted criticism from viewers who found Kiwi-Canadian actress Anna Paquin's largely silent presence unnerving in the role of Robert De Niro's adult daughter.

"Anna Paquin suddenly shows up without a speaking part? Get it together Scorcese," one Twitter user shared on Sunday.

"Between X-Men and The Irishman, I haven't heard Anna Paquin speak more than ten words in the last six years," another observed.

"I auditioned for the privilege of joining the incredible cast of [The Irishman] and I'm incredibly proud to be a part of this film," Paquin, 37, tweeted in response to the controversy. 

Others have defended both Robbie and Paquin's roles, saying their acting capability is demonstrated through their "less is more" characterisation. 

As demonstrated by 2019's female-dominated projects, Hustlers and Little Women, women made up 39 percent of all speaking characters and 58 percent of all protagonists in films with at least one female director and/or writer.