New Data Shows How Badly Women Are Underrepresented in Hollywood

April 10th 2016

It's a trope now that women are underrepresented both in front of and behind the camera in Hollywood. But a a new study by Polygraph illustrates just how badly women have it in the movies: They are not only underrepresented, but they are also usually much younger than their male co-stars.

hollywood-reporter-coverTwitter/@THC - twitter.com

Polygraph surveyed dialogue from 2,005 screenplays in the first study of its kind, and it found the following:

  • Men had 60 percent or more of the lines in 75 percent of the screenplays, or 1,505 films.

  • Men had 90 percent or more of the lines In 15 percent of the screenplays, or 301 films.

  • Gender parity in lines (plus or minus 10 percent) existed in only 16 percent of the screenplays, or 321 films.

  • Women had 90 percent or more of the lines in only 0.004 percent of the screenplays, or eight films.

Polygraph’s Hannah Anderson and Matt Daniels came to their conclusions after dividing up the lines in each screenplay along gender lines. Anderson and Daniels said this study is “arguably the largest undertaking of script analysis, ever.”

The following infographic breaks down the dialogue by gender (thanks to Vox for this image):

Gender Breakdown in FilmPolygraph (via Vox) - polygraph.cool

Of the screenplays studied, only two featured 100 percent female dialogue (the '90s dramedy "Now and Then" and the horror film "The Descent"). The list of films in which men have all the dialogue is the longest line in the graph.

Perhaps more surprising is the fact that movies that center on women – think romantic comedies or Disney princess movies – lack parity in gender dialogue. Some 22 of the 30 Disney movies studied featured more male dialogue, even in female-centered movies such as "Tangled," "Mulan," "Beauty and the Beast," "Pocahontas" and "The Little Mermaid"

ben-affleckTwitter - hollywoodlife.com

The reason? Most of these movies had more male supporting characters. Even though Mulan is the leading character in her film, the supporting role of her protector dragon, Mushu, has 50 percent more lines than she.

  • The Disney movies that achieved a gendered balance include "Frozen," "The Incredibles," "Into The Woods," "Tarzan" and "Tangled."
  • The Disney films that had more female dialogue than male included "Inside Out," "Alice In Wonderland," "Maleficent" and "Sleeping Beauty."


Anderson and Daniels admit that their research isn’t perfect. In the Mulan example, “a plot can center around a character, even though the dialogue doesn’t reflect it. And all of our data is based on screenplays, not a perfect transcription of a film,” they wrote. (Films change quite a bit from script to screen, and directors often add or cut lines or characters in the final movie.)

The data also reveal the distribution of lines between male and female based on age. The conclusion there? There are way more lines of dialogue for young female characters than for older ones. For men, the situation is reversed.

Take a look:

Age of Women in MoviesPolygraph - polygraph.cool

Polygraph undertook the survey after it got flack from commenters on an article about how few films passed the Bechdel Test. The test asks if a film (or book or play) has at least two female characters who talk to each other about something other than a man. If the answer is yes, the work of art passes the test.

The test was popularized by lesbian cartoonist Allison Bechdel in her 1985 cartoon strip "Dykes to Watch Out For." Needless to say, the majority of mainstream movies don't pass the test, not even "Toy Story."

The Rules/ Dykes To Watch Out ForAlison Bechdel / Dykes To Watch Out For - dykestowatchoutfor.com

Critics of the Bechdel Test argue that it is flawed and that films could fail this test for reasons other than sexism: A movie may be a historic reenactment, for example.

Polygraph's study is the site's way of getting the dirty details about the lack of female representation in films.

Polygraph has made public a Google Doc with all of survey's results and links to a Github site with most of their data. You can also search the data by genre, year, and title.

For more, check out the rest of this interesting study and Polygraph's analysis.

(h/t Vox)

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