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How do we have an informed discussion? With so much hostility and so many conflicting views in the world, everything must have some sort of basis to prove worthy of discussion; simply sharing our opinion is no longer an option. Take Hollywood for example.

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A common discussion in the entertainment industry is the imbalance in movie roles. Sexism and racism have been pinpointed by many as the reason why white men dominate movie roles, but with no data to support such claims, it becomes a back-and-forth fight that cannot be resolved so easily.
To truly flush out the issue, data must be presented to show how many movies are actually about men; what changes by genre, era, or box-office revenue; what makes for more diversity.

And Hannah Anderson and Matt Daniels wanted to reveal exactly that:

We didn’t set out trying to prove anything, but rather compile real data. We framed it as a census rather than a study. So we Googled our way to 8,000 screenplays and matched each character’s lines to an actor. From there, we compiled the number of words spoken by male and female characters across roughly 2,000 films, arguably the largest undertaking of script analysis, ever.
Below are the points they covered:

Dialogue, by gender, for Disney films

Anderson and Daniels noted that in January 2016, researchers reported that men speak more often than women in Disney’s princess films. To support this claim, Anderson and Daniels doubled the sample size to 30 Disney films, and fond that 22 of the 30 films have a male majority dialogue.


“For each screenplay, we mapped characters with at least 100 words of dialogue to a person’s IMDB page (which identifies people as an actor or actress). We did this because minor characters are poorly labeled on IMDB pages,” the duo explained.

It was difficult for them to find films that were not male-dominant. “Even romantic comedies have dialogue that is, on average, 58 percent male,” they said.

Screenplays with women as lead characters

Actresses had the most amount of dialogue as leads in 22% of the films analyzed. The team concluded through their dataset that women are more likely to be in the second place for the most amount of dialogue, occurring in 34% of films. “The most abysmal stat is when women occupy at least 2 of the top 3 roles in a film, which occurs in 18% of our films. That same scenario for men occurs in about 82% of films,” they said.

Men and Women aging out of Hollywood

This has been of concern in the entertainment industry for quite some time, and it has pushed its way into everyday life as well. The conversation has certainly gone from a general acceptance to a frustrating conflict, with stigma that women are only beautiful until a certain age being tested. For their data, Anderson and Daniels looked at the age of each cast member at the time of its release, and found that there was a strong bias toward younger women in Hollywood.

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“The amount of dialogue, by age-range, is completely opposite for women versus men. Dialogue available to women who are over 40 years old decrease substantially. For men, it’s the exact opposite: there are more roles available to older actors,” they said.

Of their project, Anderson and Daniels concluded:

This project was born out of the less-than-stellar response to our analysis of films that fail the Bechdel Test. Commenters were quick to point out that the Bechdel Test is flawed and there are justifiable reasons for films to fail (e.g., they are historic). By measuring dialogue, we have much more objective view of gender in film.

Many of readers are drawing conclusions that were anecdotally obvious to women in the film industry. But nobody wanted to do the grunt work of gathering the data. We spent weeks just matching scripts to IMDB pages. It’s still not perfect, but we’re now in a much better place than “you know…women are never love-interests when they’re older than 40. 

All of our sources are available in this Google Doc and as much data as we can share (without getting sued) is available here on Github. Here’s an FAQ that addresses concerns about the methodology and data. Or if you don’t know how to code, here’s an easy way to comb through every film, genre, and year.

Their project offers an invaluable glimpse into the reality of white male dominance in films, but also offers clues about how to deal with such conflicts moving forward: putting data before rhetoric.
Conflicts are supported by tension and drama, but that doesn’t make them a bad thing. Conflicts help to make change for the better. However, it’s how they are represented and fought that separates the angry accusations from the success stories. Data and metrics make all the difference.

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