Study shows female characters in movies usually “make no difference to the plot”

female characters
A study into the language, characters and plots of modern cinema has revealed a huge gender imbalance between how men and women are portrayed.

According to the report, which scrutinised almost 1,000 different movie scripts, if the female roles are removed from a plot, it often makes no difference to the story.

It also found that men have almost double the lines in movies – 37,000 dialogues in comparison to 15,000 for women.

The women on screen typically discuss family values and have more positively themed storylines, whilst the men’s language is more related to achievement, death and sex.

Female characters also tend to be around five years younger than male protagonists.

Finally, the research highlighted that there are 12 times more male directors than female and seven times more male writers.

It also discovered that when female writers were present at script meetings, the gender imbalance in the movie was altered by around 50 per cent higher.

The findings were conducted by USC Viterbi School of Engineering’s Signal Analysis and Interpretation Lab (SAIL) and were published by The Times.

SAIL used cognitive and developmental language tools to analyse the dialogue in nearly 1,000 different scripts.

“Writers consciously or subconsciously agree to established norms about gender that are built into their word choices,” Anil Ramakrishna, one of the study’s researchers told The Times.

The problem of male prominence in movies has previously been shown by The Bechdel test, developed in 1985 by Alison Bechdel and Liz Wallace.

For a film to pass, it must answer the following three questions positively: Does it have more than two named female characters? Do those two talk to each other? Is that conversation about something other than a man?

The Hollywood Reporter applied the Bechdel-Wallace test to the top-selling movies of 2016, finding that just under 50 per cent passed the test.

Actress Charlize Theron also criticised the industry when promoting her film Atomic Blonde, telling Bustle: “Fifteen, ten years ago, you couldn’t produce a lot of female-driven stuff, in any genre, just because nobody wanted to make it.”

The final, completed results of the study will be published in the Proceedings of the Association for Computational Linguistics.

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