The difference between being a cinephile and a sports junkie is that you can’t quantify the awesomeness of Zootopia, whereas you can statistically prove Steph Curry’s apex predator dominance. While all we have in terms of a stat-based approach to the quality of films is the critical aggregation on Rotten Tomatoes, which is a flawed system, there are other aspects of movies we can break down into numbers. For instance, we can see whether sexism is truly as widespread as some suggest.
An extensive new study from the pop culture data viz team at Polygraph takes a close look at the amount of speaking done by men vs. women in a variety of films. The team previously looked into why so many films fail the Bechdel Test–the simple measure of whether a film features at least two named women, whether they speak to each other, and whether they talk about something besides men–and now they’ve gone even further. The new study reveals the extent to which films are verbally lead by men.
Polygraph matched each character’s lines to an actor across roughly 2,000 films, and broke them down across gender lines. The team factored in only characters with at least 100 words of dialogue, and this 100-word hurdle accounts for why some films are listed as having 100% male dialogue, even though some women do speak during the runtime. (There Will Be Blood, for instance.)
The findings prove what the Bechdel Test merely suggests. In 78% of the films the team studied, male actors had the most amount of dialogue. More depressing, though, was the finding that in 18% of the films examined, men spoke more even when women occupied at least two of the top three roles in the film.
“Across thousands of films in our dataset, it was hard to find a subset that didn’t over-index male,” the study reveals. “Even romantic comedies have dialogue that is, on average, 58% male. For example, Pretty Woman and 10 Things I Hate About You both have lead women (i.e., characters with the most amount of dialogue). But the overall dialogue for both films is 52% male, due to the number of male supporting characters.”
In response to a Washington Post article reporting that men speak more often than women in Disney’s princess films, Polygraph also examined 30 Disney films and validated the claim. It turned out 22 of 30 Disney films fit the bill, letting children at a young age know that women are to be seen more than heard.
The team also took a look at the age of actors in films to determine the statistical truth behind the idea that women are aged out of Hollywood. Have a look at the findings of that study and more in the slides above, and visit Polygraph‘s FAQ to find out even more about this project.