Hollywood’s gender divide means women speak half as much as men

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Susan Devaney
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A study of the language used in nearly 1,000 movie scripts has officially confirmed something we already knew: that female characters on screen are so reductive that if they were removed they’d have pretty much no effect on the overall plot.

And it doesn’t stop there. Women characters are always younger and speak a lot less than their male counterparts too, according to the report in The Times.

The research, conducted by the USC Viterbi School of Engineering’s Signal Analysis and Interpretation Lab (SAIL), used automated tools to analyse dialogue throughout scripts from previous decades, looking at 7,000 characters and 53,000 dialogues.

Their analysis found that across all of the scripts, nearly 5,000 characters were men, while only 2,000 were women. And men had 37,000 on-screen conversations - 22,000 more than women.

Researchers also found that dialogues spoken by male characters tended to contain more words related to achievement and death. In comparison, female characters were more positive, meaning “this tended to be correlated with using language connecting with family values.”

In all of the film scripts studied there were seven times as many male writers involved, three times as many producers and 12 times as many male directors.   

“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 has nothing to do with the way actors are presented and what they say,” concluded the first author of the study, Anil Ramakrishna.

This isn’t the first time we’ve been met with sexist statistics from Hollywood. In 2016, a census of over 2,000 films carried out by Polygraph revealed how women get less dialogue in films the older they get, while male dialogue increases with age.

The study found that as women age in Hollywood they’re increasingly marginalised. Women between the ages of 22 and 31 spoke 38% of all female dialogue in the films surveyed – a figure which fell to 31% after the age of 32 and to 20% for actors aged 42-65.

And male characters continued to be celebrated more up until the age of 65.

By now we’re all familiar with the Bechdel Test which is often used to determine whether women have had fair representation within a movie. To pass, the film must include more than two named female characters who talk to each other about something that isn’t a man.

While we don’t know the names of the films analysed in the SAIL report yet, we do know which major movies passed the Bechdel Test in 2016. According to an investigation by The Hollywood Reporter, films including Star Trek Beyond, The Legend Of Tarzan and Jason Bourne all failed. However, Ghostbusters, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Batman v Superman all made the cut.

And, of course, we all know Wonder Woman from this year is sure to pass the test with flying colours.

Images: Rex Features