Sexism in Hollywood has become a hot topic of discussion, with many highly successful female actresses speaking out on the issue.

But there isn't much in the way of studies or hard data on the subject. One of the most well-known is the Bechdel Test, which measures the presence of women in movies based on three criteria: a movie must have at least two women in it; these women must talk to one another; they must talk about something besides a man.

As of July 2015, one-third of popular films failed the test. However, the test has been criticized as flawed. For example, 50 Shades of Grey passes the test, but has been widely criticized for its portrayal of women.

In an effort to find a new approach, researchers at Polygraph, Hannah Anderson and Matt Daniels, took a different approach to measuring sexism in the film industry.

Just how sexist is Hollywood?

Their research looks at around 2,000 screenplays, compiling the number of words spoken by male and female characters. Each character must have at least 100 words of dialogue to be counted.

Of all the films analysed, more than three-quarters have over 60% male dialogue, with some 300 films having more than 90% male dialogue. The Shawshank Redemption, The Revenant and Schindler’s List all had 100% male dialogue, according to this study’s methodology.

By comparison, only eight films had 90% female dialogue, and 165 films had 60-90% women dominating the conversations, compared to 1,208 films with 60-90% male dialogue. A total of 321 films were considered to have gender parity.

The research focused on Disney films, which have attracted both praise and criticism for gender equality. Frozen has been credited with developing strong female characters and focusing on the relationship between sisters Elsa and Anna, rather than prioritizing romantic relationships.

Despite this, a study found that male characters have three times as many lines as female ones in some Disney movies about princesses, including The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast.

 Screenplay dialogue broken down by gender
Image: World Economic Forum

Anderson and Daniels explored this area further, finding that 22 of 30 Disney films analysed have more male that female dialogue. Even films with female leads, such as Pocahontas and Mulan, had more male speech.

Frozen was deemed to be gender balanced, although there was still more male dialogue – even with two female leads. While older Disney films are often criticised for gender stereotypes, 1959’s Sleeping Beauty has almost 70% female lines.

Speaking out about gender inequality

A number of Hollywood stars have spoken out about sexism in the industry. Jennifer Lawrence, one of the world’s highest paid actresses, highlighted the problem in 2015 after information was leaked revealing she was paid less than her male co-stars.

She acknowledged that although in many ways her problems were “not relatable” due to her position of privilege, her experiences reflect broader stereotypes.

Behind the camera, women also face a male-dominated world, with a Celluloid Ceiling report from San Diego State University finding that in 2015 women comprised less than 20% of all directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors and cinematographers working on the top 250 films of the year.

 Historical comparison of percentages of behind-the-scenes women on top 250 films
Image: Celluloid Ceiling Report 2015

And it's not just sexism that actresses have to contend with: older female actresses are also experiencing discrimination disproportionately in comparison to male co-workers, according to the Polygraph research.

Percentage of dialogue by actors' age
Image: Polygraph

Actresses between 22 and 31 received the most dialogue compared to other ages, with 38% of all female lines going to womne in this age range. However, this was still less dialogue than male actors in the same age range.

Male actors aged 45 to 65 had almost 40% of the lines, compared to 20% of women in the same age range.

Speaking about Hollywood’s sexist attitude towards ageing, Charlize Theron said: “It would be a lie to say there is less worry for women as they get older than there is for men,” adding: “It feels there’s this unrealistic standard of what a woman is supposed to look like when she’s over 40.”

Theron is not alone. Maggie Gyllenhaal was told at 37 that she was too old to play the love interest of a 55-year-old man.

This reflects the commonplace practice of younger women being cast against much older men as love interests.

Anderson and Daniels end their research by noting: “Many of the findings are anecdotally obvious to women in the film industry”.

Have you read?