All too often, when female film fans assert that movies predominantly feature white men, we’re often challenged to “prove it.” Well now, thanks to researchers at Polygraph, we have more data to do so. A new infographic and interactive feature titled “Film Dialogue From 2,000 Screenplays Broken Down By Gender and Age” confirms what we’ve been saying for ages: Hollywood movies are dominated by white men.
The creators of the infographic, which you can explore using various search terms and throughout different time periods here, began as a result of the creators’ desire for data to back up the rhetoric. They scoured 8,000 screenplays and matched each character’s lines to an actor and from there compiled the number of lines for male and female characters across roughly 2,000 films. But we do take issue with their comment that that sexism in movies is all rhetoric and not data. We’ve been citing data from all our colleagues for years.
Addressing a January report from The Washington Post that declared that men speak more often than women in popular Disney films, the team decided to apply their system to the animation giant first, and they found the same results. Men had 60 percent more lines in 22 out of 30 Disney films, with only five films achieving gender balance and four films (“Sleeping Beauty,” Maleficent,” “Inside Out” and “Alice in Wonderland”) that have women speaking 60 percent of the dialogue.
As the researchers note, “Even films with female leads, such as ‘Mulan,’ the dialogue swings male. Mushu, her protector dragon, has 50 percent more lines than Mulan herself.” But they do point out, “This dataset isn’t perfect. As with ‘Mulan,’ a plot can center around a character, even though the dialogue doesn’t reflect it.”
Diving into the non-Disney screenplays in their research, it was difficult to find a film that didn’t skew more male. As their conclusions point out, even romantic comedies often dip into the male majority side of the findings: “For example, ‘Pretty Woman’ and ’10 Things I Hate You’ both have have lead women (i.e., characters with the most lines). But the overall dialogue for both films is 52 percent male, due to the number of male supporting characters.”
The team also explored the age biases that exist in Hollywood films, and the preference for younger women. “The number of lines, by age-range, is completely opposite for women versus men. Lines available to women who are over 40 years-old decrease substantially. For men, it’s the exact opposite: there’s more roles available to older actors.”
The information made available through this research is exponentially helpful when trying to prove that Hollywood films more often than not skew male. The grunt work put in is extraordinary — and the results are incredibly useful and important.
Make sure to visit the interactive portion of the infographic, where you can search for all films’ dialogue by cast member and gender and dig through the illuminating results.