Children should be seen and not heard. This is a proverb whose origins date back to medieval times. It is a proverb that is rarely used today because, well, it’s so medieval. When it comes to roles for actresses in major motion pictures, however, we aren’t far removed from those medieval times. Actresses are seen in the movies but are not heard as much as their male counterparts. According to a study released within the last few weeks by the website Polygraph Cool, actresses have less dialogue than male actors by a significant amount in 2,000 of the top grossing box office films of all time. The study measures words of dialogue for each character in the screenplays of these movies. Some of the key findings in the study are:
- Female characters have the most dialogue in only 22% of the films studied.
- Female characters have two of the top three roles in only 18% of the movies.
- In all age groups, actresses have less dialogue than male actors in the same age group.
- This dialogue discrepancy gets more pronounced as actresses age. Actresses 22-31 have 3 words of dialogue for every 4 words for Actors in the same age group. In comparison Actresses 42-65 have 1 word of dialogue for every 5 words of male dialogue.
- Even in Romantic Comedies the dialogue is 58% male.
Are there movies out there with greater gender parity? If so, how do you find them? The answer is yes. They do exist but not in great numbers. At the bottom of the Polygraph study linked above, the authors provide a tool that you can use to access the movies used in the study. As I’ve mentioned in a prior article, there is a male bias to both IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes. You might check out ChickFlix.net, which provides movie reviews from a female perspective as a substitute for Rotten Tomatoes.
There is also the Bechdel Test, which is cited in the Polygraph study. This tests movies based on a simple criteria. There must be two main female characters who have a conversation with each other about something other than a man. Based on studies, only about 50% of movies pass the test.
You can also use the personalized movie recommenders that I’ve recommended on my posts. By rating movies on Netflix-DVD, MovieLens, or Criticker, you will generate movie recommendations based on your taste in movies.
The lack of diversity in today’s movies reflect the box office. The first step is being able to identify which movies reflect the diversity that we’d like to see in film. I would like to think that we can push film evolution out of medieval times.