The number of major Hollywood films starring female lead characters sharply increased last year, a study revealed Wednesday.
The movie industry has come under criticism for its low representation of women and ethnic minorities, particularly in the wake of the #MeToo, #TimesUp and #OscarsSoWhite campaigns of recent years.
Overall, 40 percent of hit films featured women as their lead characters last year -- a record since the authors began tracking in 2002, and up from 31 percent in 2018.
"We have now seen two consecutive years of substantial gains for female protagonists, indicating the beginning of a positive shift in representation," said Martha Lauzen of the San Diego State University's Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film.
But despite female-led hits such as "Captain Marvel," "Hustlers" and "Little Women," the amount of speaking roles for women in top-grossing films slightly dropped, the annual report found.
"It's important to note that moviegoers are still almost twice as likely to see a male character as a female character in a speaking role," said Lauzen.
The "It's a Man's (Celluloid) World" study looked at casting in 2018's biggest domestic box office hit movies.
It found that representation for ethnic minority actresses remained stubbornly low -- 68 percent of all female characters were white, a slight increase on the previous year.
In a sign of enduring gender stereotypes, female characters were more likely than male counterparts to have a known marital status, and were less likely to have a known job or to be shown at their workplaces.
Actress were also likely to be younger than actors -- the majority of female characters were in their 20s and 30s, while, most males were in their 30s and 40s.
"Female characters experience a precipitous drop from their 30s to their 40s, and few women age into their 60s," it found.
The report looked at characters appearing in the 100 top domestic grossing films last year.