Film Dialogue from 2,000 Films
April 8, 2016 10:12 PM   Subscribe

 
Why we made this
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 the findings are anecdotally obvious to women in the film industry. But nobody wanted to do the grunt work of gathering the data...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. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯”
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 10:51 PM on April 8, 2016 [4 favorites]


This is just amazing and beautiful work. Thanks for posting.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 11:01 PM on April 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


So, so nice. Nitpicking will happen, nitpicking always happens, but the evidence behind an impressionistic sense of sexist patriarchal prevalence is right there, plain. Now if you see this and do not agree with the data, you will be wrong. Because the data are all right there.
posted by cgc373 at 11:09 PM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


¯\_(ツ)_/¯, indeed.
posted by cgc373 at 11:25 PM on April 8, 2016


While the data is of course indisputable, it's interesting how popular perceptions of films may not agree with it. Ask anyone who the main character of Mulan is and they'll say "Mulan", even though men apparently had 75% of the dialogue. And I remember Colette as being an equally vivid character as Linguini in Ratatouille (the protagonists, in my opinion, secondary to Remy the rat) although it's even more gender-imbalanced.

I'd like to see an analysis that takes genre into account. For example, one of Studio Ghibli's adventure/fantasy films with a female protagonist probably has the majority of lines from girls+women, but a romance like so many of the Disney princess movies is more likely to heavily feature the male lead. (Or also species—apparently Mulan's imbalance is partly due to her pet dragon? Does its gender affect the movie beyond the pitch of its voice?)
posted by Rangi at 12:34 AM on April 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


And yet, we hear the angry white nerd boy say that two Star Wars movies with women leads, and it's all feminism being shoved down their throats...
posted by qcubed at 12:35 AM on April 9, 2016 [6 favorites]


Ask anyone who the main character of Mulan is and they'll say "Mulan", even though men apparently had 75% of the dialogue.

Yes, the most clearly damning stats are the Disney film ones, because they are known for their female leads, but the men still get the most dialogue overwhelmingly. And this is the issue - even in films where women are the leads, they are still supported (dominated?) by male characters.

And kudos to Disney/Lucasfilm for casting women as the leads in two Star Wars films, but the casts are still overwhelmingly male. The Rogue One trailer might have passed the Bechdel test all by itself, but apart from Jyn and Mon, the rest of the very large cast is male.
posted by crossoverman at 2:39 AM on April 9, 2016 [5 favorites]


It seems to me that thinking specifically about films like Mulan, it's possible for the comedic sidekick character to get a lot of the dialog and in some ways becomes a more memorable/iconic character than the main hero. So this is an issue that needs to be tackled from all sides, really--films need strong female leads (or weak, vulnerable ones, ffs--the idea that a lead character needs to be strong and heroic is a bit of a concession to the patriarchy to start off with), but also witty, memorable female supporting characters that come from great comediennes (a la Ellen DeGeneres's Dory), women scriptwriters that feed to their strengths, etc.
posted by drlith at 4:58 AM on April 9, 2016 [3 favorites]


Yes, the most clearly damning stats are the Disney film ones, because they are known for their female leads, but the men still get the most dialogue overwhelmingly. And this is the issue - even in films where women are the leads, they are still supported (dominated?) by male characters.


It goes even deeper than that-- it's not just that the sidekicks are male, it's that a majority of the other random background characters are also male. From the article about the study they linked to in the first paragraph:

"My best guess is that it's carelessness, because we're so trained to think that male is the norm,” says Eisenhauer, a graduate student at North Carolina State. “So when you want to add a shopkeeper, that shopkeeper is a man. Or you add a guard, that guard is a man. I think that's just really ingrained in our culture.”

So even in, say, Frozen, when they're consciously trying to beef up the female character's roles, in addition to having all-male sidekicks, they're also going to have a male sauna owner.
posted by damayanti at 6:39 AM on April 9, 2016 [5 favorites]




This is great. I love things like this that render uncontroversially visible what most women feel to be true based on personal experience.
posted by Miko at 7:29 AM on April 9, 2016 [3 favorites]


So Anna Kendrick and Sam Rockwell were on Stephen Colbert the other night promoting "Mr. Right", and I'd never heard of the movie. Turns out they are love interests in it and my immediate thought when that was brought up was how they didn't have anyone closer to Sam Rockwell's age to star opposite him. I like each of them just fine, and it's not obvious (to me) that Anna Kendrick is over 30, but I imagine they wanted someone young looking. While that might be incidental to the plot (I haven't looked it up), it definitely goes along with the perception of older women not getting work.

Another example off the top of my head is Bradley Cooper and pretty much any actress they set up with him.
posted by numaner at 8:32 AM on April 9, 2016


Numaner, on the specific idea of age of love interests, there's this: http://www.vulture.com/2013/04/leading-men-age-but-their-love-interests-dont.html (perhaps not as scientifically rigorous as the OP but ...)
posted by RobotHero at 9:20 AM on April 9, 2016 [2 favorites]


Even romantic comedies, which you'd assume would skew very close to 50%, are at 58/42.
posted by jeather at 10:30 AM on April 9, 2016


[A few comments removed, a bunch of scare-quoted dismissal seems like a poor direction to try and take the thread in.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:34 AM on April 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


my immediate thought when that was brought up was how they didn't have anyone closer to Sam Rockwell's age to star opposite him.

Now that I notice age differences between actors and actresses, a *ton* of movies are downright creepy.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 7:41 PM on April 9, 2016 [2 favorites]


I can't remember which writer first pointed this out (please someone tell me if you know!) but this is a good thread to mention that Robert Downey Jr., at age 51, plays the sexy superhero Iron Man, while Diane Lane, at age 51, plays Superman's mom.
posted by ejs at 11:16 AM on April 10, 2016 [2 favorites]


And Kevin Costner as Superman's dad is another 10 years older, at 61. Geez, Hollywood. Get it together.
posted by crossoverman at 3:03 PM on April 10, 2016


I would have read the heck out of this if they hadn't made it unreadable with charts that jump in and out and bounce up and down so that you can't find them or read them when you want to.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:30 AM on April 11, 2016


I totally get the underrepresentation in movies and all that, but is it really that weird that superman's parents are in their 50's and 60's? It sucks that no woman Diane Lane's age is going to be much of anything except mother, and that is definitely something that needs changing.

But I think it is a bit of improvement that Diane Lane and Kevin Costner are playing the parents of an actor in their 30's. There's a whole list like where Angelina Jolie played mother to Colin Farrel, but in real life she is only 1 year older than him; or Rachel Griffiths playing the mother of Johnny Depp in Blow, but she's actually 5 years younger than him.
posted by LizBoBiz at 5:56 AM on April 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


I totally get the underrepresentation in movies and all that, but is it really that weird that superman's parents are in their 50's and 60's? It sucks that no woman Diane Lane's age is going to be much of anything except mother, and that is definitely something that needs changing.

The issue isn't that they are parents, the issue is that Downey, Jr. gets to play an action hero instead, at the same age as Lane.

This is a very cool article and great post. Weird it's got so few comments.
posted by OmieWise at 8:10 AM on April 12, 2016


I like each of them just fine, and it's not obvious (to me) that Anna Kendrick is over 30.

She's actually exactly 30. He's 47. It's not an inconceivable pairing... but especially not inconceivable in Hollywood.
posted by amanda at 8:49 AM on April 12, 2016


To be fair, when the trailer starts off, he shoots a woman his own age in the face.
posted by amanda at 8:58 AM on April 12, 2016


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