The largest ever analysis of movie dialogue by gender doesn’t look good

Acting advice: try to be a 40+ man if you want dialogue

Polygraph is a website that uses coding and art to tell visual stories about data from pop culture. They present visually-pleasing and easy-to-understand charts analysing things like how long it takes pop songs to reach a billion views on YouTube or which rappers have the largest vocabulary. The most interesting data visualisation they’ve supplied recently has been an analysis of Hollywood’s gender divide and it doesn’t look good.

Polygraph has published pieces about gender in film before. Their Bechdel test piece was very popular but also divisive. The Bechdel test asks if a film has at least two women in it who talk to each other about something other than a man. Polygraph highlight the 200 highest grossing films and their Bechdel test results but also looked at the gender diversity of their writers and directors.

“Girls, we do not, in fact, run this mother. Men are pervasive in startups, CEOs, engineering, politics – Hollywood is no exception. But in Hollywood, it’s plainly visible in the product. When men make films, what’s on-screen reflects the behind-the-scenes brotopia.”

When writers are all male, most films fail the test. Commenters have criticised that piece claiming the Bechdel test isn’t reliable. Without the test that leaves us with women in the industry telling us that there’s a gender diversity problem, but hearing directly from women isn’t enough to convince most people.

To try and educate the people who just won’t listen to the women in the industry, Polygraph has taken a different approach to bring data to the people. This time, Hanah Anderson and Matt Daniels have done the largest analysis of film dialogue by gender ever, working their way through 4 million lines spoken by 25,000 actors in 2,000 screenplays. Now we can see film dialogue broken down by both gender and age and the results undeniably highlight problems in Hollywood. Before diving in to all 2000 scripts, the team looked at Disney alone.

Image ©

From 30 Disney (and Pixar) films, 22 have males speak most of the dialogue. Some of the films are more forgiveable than others. Finding Nemo, for example, is a film about a father searching for a son. What’s more worrying is that men have most of the dialogue in films like Mulan, The Little Mermaid, and Pocahontas. Even Frozen, famous for its two sisters as main characters, has more male dialogue than female.

Anderson and Daniels take it further with 2000 scripts and have provided the tools to search through the data yourself. You can look for search for films or sort all the data by genres or decades. There are plenty of other visualisations to look at too, including a breakdown of dialogue by age. The data shows that women over 40 struggle to get roles with dialogue in films but the exact opposite is true for men. This will come as no surprise to cinema-goers who are now used to seeing older men with younger women as love interests.

Women in the film industry often speak out about the gender divide but little is done and there are always voices claiming disbelief or that it’s just not as big a deal as they’re making out. People often dismiss these problems as anecdotal and spend more time arguing about whether or not there is a problem rather than how to solve it. These datasets and tools let people take a look themselves and the figures are undeniable.

Coding and large amounts of data could bring gender diversity problems from other industries to the masses in a visually appealing way that’s easy to understand. We should use this approach as often as possible.

Main image © Thomas Sterk