A new study finds that females are still underrepresented on the big screen— that’s why ‘Wonder Woman’ is so important
The findings are surprising, but not unexpected.
A group of researchers at the University of Southern California’s Viterbi School of Engineering analyzed 530,000 dialogues between 7,000 characters in 945 films and the results aren’t pretty. Of the half million on-screen spiels tracked, men spoke 375,000 of the time— or about 220,000 times more than the 155,000 opportunities female characters had to speak. When they did have the chance to participate in conversation, women were more likely to make emotional “positive valence” remarks, while males spoke more frequently about their achievements.
The investigation, presented at the Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics, also confirms other long-held suspicions. Female characters on average are five years younger than men, while women are also more likely to have a “prominent presence in horror movies.” But even when they get more screen time in so-called bodycount films, chances are they’re victims of violence, not heroic protagonists.
The researchers also delved beyond gender to look into the racial breakdown on the big screen. In general, Latino and mixed race characters had more sexualized dialogue than those of other ethnicities. East Asians used religious epithets less than other racial groups, while black characters swore more often than whites.
Despite the depressing conclusions, there are some indications that Tinseltown has started to change. That’s primarily because women and ethnic minority moviegoers are starting to demand more than crude stereotypes. Just take the recent financial success of “Wonder Woman,” which has grossed almost $790 million since its June release to become the most lucrative film in Warner Bros’ DC Comics franchise. Although actor Chris Pine’s supporting role was critically lauded, the star of that blockbuster was undoubtedly Gal Gadot as the titular character.
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“Atomic Blonde,” a spy thriller starring Charlize Theron in the lead role made a respectable $19 million at last weekend’s box office, while films helmed by African American actors such as “Moonlight” and “Hidden Figures” have received nods at the Golden Globes and financial success. The latter movie, which tells the tale of three black female mathematicians at NASA, has made $230 million globally on a budget of just $25 million.
Is there a way to speed this up? The study suggests that having more female casting directors might not help— presumably, the decisions are already made by them. But it does appear that female writers and directors “produce movies with relatively balanced gender proportions.” That’s all the more reason to hope that director Patty Jenkins returns for the “Wonder Woman” sequel.
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