Talk isn’t cheap. And, in Hollywood, it still seems to come predominately out of male mouths.
The Wrap reports that, over at the University of Southern California’s Viterbi School of Engineering’s Signal Analysis and Interpretation Lab (SAIL), a new study has broken down the metrics of nearly 1,000 film scripts to better understand how language can impact the way various groups, particularly gender, are portrayed on screen.
Using a tool developed by the lab and “in conjunction with existing cognitive and developmental language tools, researchers Anil Ramakrishna, Victor R. Martinez, Nikolaos Malandrakis, and Karan Singla, doctoral students in Computer Science at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, together with Professor Shrikanth Narayanan, the Niki and C. L. Max Nikias Chair in Engineering, were able to quantify the sophistication and the tone of language of 7,000 characters and over 53,000 dialogues.”
The study’s authors used their tools to analyze the “content of characters’ language and their interactions across gender, race and age.” Their findings are, sadly, not that surprising.
Of the scripts and dialogues that were reviewed as part of the study, the authors found that “men had over 37,000 dialogues; women had just over 15,000.” Moreover, “women portrayed just over 2,000 characters; men portrayed almost 4,900.”
The study also analyzed the sorts of words used by the male and female characters, discovering that “female characters tend to be more positive in valence, meaning they are more positive but this tended to be correlated with using language connecting with family values,” while “male dialogue contained more words related to achievement, death and more swear words than the dialogue scripted for women.”
As study author Ramakrishna concluded, “Writers consciously or subconsciously agree to established norms about gender that are built into their word choices. In an ideal world, gender is in an auxiliary fact, it is has nothing to do with the way actors are presented and what they say.”
The new study also analyzed data around production teams, finding that of the scripts they studied, there were seven times more male writers than female, almost 12 times more male directors than female, and more than three times as many male producers than female. From that information, they were able to extrapolate another intriguing (though not surprising) finding: “If female writers were in the writers’ room, female character representation on screen was on average 50 percent higher.”
The answer for true diversity and appropriate representation on the big screen? Simple: Hire more women.